Getting away with bad behaviour

In a survey, 37 per cent of Toronto students in Grades 7 to 9 admit to committing delinquent acts; fewer than half say they were caught

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

Kids these days might not be getting away with murder, but a good many have been pulling off lesser crimes without getting caught, a Statistics Canada survey of youngsters in Toronto has found.

Of the 37 per cent of students in Grades 7 to 9 who admitted to delinquent acts in their lifetime, less than half said they'd been nabbed by authority figures for their last transgression.

If these numbers amount to disturbing arithmetic for parents, teachers, police and other grownups, they would do well to think back to their own youth and remember how common it is for kids to cross the line, a University of Toronto criminologist suggested.

"I don't find it alarming, partly because when we were young, we all did these things," Anthony Doob, a professor who studies juvenile justice, said yesterday. "For most of us, that's the nature of kids, and particularly boys."

In the survey, conducted in selected public and private schools in Toronto in the spring of 2006, more than 3,200 students were asked to report their involvement in crimes related to violence, property and drugs. Boys, at 41 per cent, were more likely than girls, at 32 per cent, to report delinquency.

If anything surprises Dr. Doob about those numbers, it's that they aren't higher.

"I would suspect that that's low," he said, based on other self-reporting studies he has seen or conducted in the past.

The more specific the questions, the more likely kids are to reveal that they have, indeed, committed some kind of crime at some point in their lives, he said. "If you ask the simple question, have you damaged or destroyed somebody's property, you'll get one answer, but if you go through all of the different kinds of things that kids can do which constitute vandalism - have you carved your initials into somebody's desk; have you broken branches off trees; have you scratched somebody's car; have you broken an aerial - you get a much higher rate," the professor said.

If you throw in other misdeeds - theft of food or drink, jumping a subway turnstile, writing graffiti - and ask kids if they've done any of those things, the numbers soar.

"You combine all those things and say 'one or more' and it would probably be approaching 100 per cent," Dr. Doob said.

Whatever the numbers, the adult response to a child's deviant behaviour, even if it's merely the product of routine adolescent rebellion, is crucial, according to a Toronto police officer who has spent most of the past five years visiting schools.

"There's a lot of kids who experiment," Constable Scott Mills said. "That's why when they get caught it's good to have people that care, at whatever level it is - at school, at a community centre, with the police, but most importantly with Mom and Dad - and get them involved with something productive."

The study suggests that Mom and Dad make a difference. The prevalence of delinquent behaviour was 18 per cent among children who lived with both of their parents, but 25 per cent among those with one parent and 35 per cent for the children of stepfamilies.

The incidence of misbehaviour increased when parents worked. When the mother was unemployed, 17 per cent of kids were delinquent, and when the father was jobless, 14 per cent stepped out of line. Those numbers rose to 21 and 20 per cent, respectively, when mothers and fathers worked, suggesting supervision might be an issue. The delinquency numbers also soared, from 12 per cent to 56 per cent, between kids whose parents who kept track of their movements outside the home and those whose parents rarely or never knew where they were.

Children born outside Canada, meanwhile, were less likely to be delinquent, at 15 per cent, than their Canadian-born classmates, at 23 per cent. There was no significant difference, however, between Canadian-born children of immigrant parents and children born to non-immigrants.

Gerry Connelly, director of education for the Toronto District School Board, had not read the report closely as of late yesterday, but she said she welcomes it "because it helps us in working with our youth and bringing forth programs and supports to help them."

Aside from suspensions for misbehaviour, Ms. Connelly said the board tracks the effectiveness of its programs to help and correct errant students.

"Are we concerned? The answer is yes, we're concerned about what happens in our schools and what happens in the city, in our society," she said.

A group of Grade 9 students at North Toronto Collegiate Institute see their small-time mischief as just that.

"The advantages outweigh the disadvantages," said Jon, 14. "You get a rush from lighting leaf bags on fire. If cops do come, they'll just write you up."

A 14-year-old student from Forest Hill Collegiate chuckled as he shared a video of his friends who had smeared their feces on the school's doors.

One student who was caught stealing a can of Red Bull, but got off with a warning, said he felt guilty. "I don't think I would do it again," he said. "I did it just to fit in, because all my friends were doing it."

Constable Mills said he sees three stages in the development of a young delinquent: the fantasy stage, in which "they're thinking about it, checking it out, experimenting"; the at-risk stage, where they're deviating from household norms, skipping the occasional class and hanging out with a questionable crowd; and the hard-core stage, where "guys are out there doing it for a purpose, which is to make money and have power and status in the community."

If a youth is caught at the fantasy stage, "I think you pretty much [deter] all of them," the officer said. "If you get them at the at-risk phase, the percentages start going down. With the hard core, these guys are getting caught multiple times ... and there's nothing that works."

Constable Mills estimated the hard core at less than 1 per cent. "The majority of kids are good," he said. "They do experiment; it all depends on at what stage you're catching them."

Successful correction also depends on how you react to those who are caught, Dr. Doob said. "The fact that it's normal behaviour doesn't mean that we have to like it, or that we should," he said. "What we want to do is hold somebody accountable for what they've done when we've apprehended them ... and what we try to do is to minimize the long-term harm of the punishment" by keeping minor offences out of the court system, as the Youth Criminal Justice act sets out to do.

Delinquent behaviour "really is one of those things that, for better or worse, youth do when they're adolescents," Dr. Doob said. "And, for better, they stop doing it, and they stop doing it, more or less, on their own."

With reports from Timothy Appleby and Jessica Rafuse; Oliver Moore

In Toronto, into trouble

  Male Female Grade 7 Grade 8 Grade 9 Total
Snatching a bag, purse or something else from a person 580* 170* 210* 280* 250* 750*
  (2%) * (1%)* (1%)* (1%)* (1%)* (1%)*
Carrying a weapon, such as a stick, chain, or knife 2,800 990 850* 1,370 1,570 3,780
  -9% -3% (4%)* -7% -8% -6%
Threatening somebody to get something from them 360* 390* 170* 300* 270* 740*
  (1%)* (1%)* (1%)* (1%)* (1%)* (1%)*
Participating in a group fight in a public place 4,110 1,570 1,760 2,040 1,880 5,690
  -13% -5% -9% -10% -9% -9%
Intentionally hurting someone so badly they needed to see a doctor 420* F 170* 190* F 560*
  (1%)* F (1%)* (1%)* F (1%)*
Total year prevalence of violent behaviours 5,590 2,380 2,220 2,970 2,780 7,970
  -18% (8%)* -11% -15% -14% -13%
Damaging something intentionally 2,130 900 770* 1,190 1,080* 3,030
  -7% -3% (4%)* -6% (5%)* -5%
Stealing something from a store 2,660 2,180 850* 1,680 2,310 4,830
  -8% -8% (4%)* -8% -11% -8%
Breaking into a building to steal something 220* F F F F 230*
  (1%)* F F F F 0*
Stealing a bicycle 680* F F F 350* 710*
  (2%)* F F F (2%)* (1%)*
Stealing a motorcycle or car F F F F F F
  F F F F F F
Stealing something out of (or from) a car 340* 190* F 260* F 530*
  (1%)* (1%)* F (1%)* F (1%)*
Intentionally setting fire to property(other than your own) 1,300 490* 340* 760* 690* 1,790
  -4% (2%)* (2%)* (4%)* (3%)* -3%
Total year prevalence of property-related behaviours 4,520 2,950 1,500 2,870 3,100 7,470
  -15% (10%)* -8% -15% -15% -13%
Selling drugs, or acting as a go-between 880* 340* F 260* 910* 1,220*
  (3%)* (1%)* F (1%)* (4%)* (2%)*
Total year prevalence of delinquent behaviours 7,420 4,400 2,790 4,300 4,730 11,820
  -24% -16% -14% -22% -24% -20%



7th: 14%

8th: 22%

9th: 24%


Females: 16%

Males: 24%


Of Canadian born...23%*

Non-Canadian born...15%*

...were admitted offenders


Neither parent: 24%*

Both: 18%*

Father only: 33%*

Mother only: 20%*


Other: 24%*

Step/blended family: 35%*

Single parent family: 25%*

Two parent family: 18%*


Parents never aware of whom they were with: 56%*

Parents are sometimes aware of whom they were with: 35%*

Parents are always aware of whom their children were with: 12%*


YES: 35%*

NO: 9%*


YES: 60%*

NO: 16%*

* Use with caution, results highly variable F= Too unreliable to be published NOTE: Results may not equal 100% due to rounding




It's pretty frightening for Beverly Best to imagine that one of every five youths in her community might be committing delinquent acts regularly.

"What you're going to have in Toronto, you're going to have to a smaller degree here," the deputy mayor said in a telephone interview from Salisbury, N.B.

Salisbury, a village of 2,000 near Moncton, nonetheless has a school as big as many in major urban centres because it handles students from a large catchment area. "We have 1,200 kids in school, so imagine one in five [a delinquent] ... you hate to think about that many students being involved," she said. "

But Ms. Best was concerned enough about youth crime to help bring in a controversial measure six years ago: Municipal officials imposed a 10 p.m. curfew for anyone 16 and under. It didn't have a marked impact on petty crime, she said, but it produced positive results. Canada's education system is "a free for all," Ms. Best said, because they "are not allowed to discipline students."

Oliver Moore


The chair of the Vancouver School Board has a different analysis, though he too feels the Toronto numbers are surprisingly high.

Ken Denike said those who see chaos in the education system are often looking at it with no recollection of the misdeeds of their own peers while in school. And a less rigid learning environment is not necessarily a bad thing. Discipline issues in the schools have not become worse over time, he said.

"I think it's [the same]," he said in a telephone interview. "There could be some loss of respect for authority. But in the final analysis, the classroom may be louder but it's not necessarily less disciplined."

That said, Mr. Denike also believes that the numbers reported in Toronto were higher than would be found among students of the Vancouver school system.

Tackling delinquency is "about getting kids to buy into the notion that actions have impacts," he said. "It needs leadership, and generally it's the principal."

Oliver Moore


Our commentary in the Globe and Mail September 26, 2007

You (Ottawa Mens, from Ottawa -Home of corrupt family court judges., Canada) wrote: Most children now do not have their own father in the home. Increasingly, its either a single mother, two mothers or two fathers and, a perfectly deserving loving father is totally alienated by Canada's gender apartheid system that makes men second class human beings. When children grow up without a father they are almost guaranteed to have problems or to be at greater risk of having behavioural problems in school not to mention create an endless cycle of family dysfunction. Children need both parents and learn differently from both parents. Canada needs a legal presumption of equal parenting after divorce to prevent the billions of dollars in litigation that is necessitated by extreme feminist ideology.