By Wayne Litke
After years of working in the news industry, I should have thick and calloused skin and nothing should bother me. However, I am constantly shocked at the depravity of people every time I read a newspaper, magazine or watch a news broadcast. Horrific acts are not limited to sickos in cities, the Middle East or backward and impoverished nations. They occur in our own backyard and are not always committed by adults.
For example, two young children were doused with gasoline and set on fire after an altercation with another youth. The incident occurred at a home on Lac La Ronge First Nation in northern Saskatchewan in the early hours of June 11. The injured children, an 11-year-old girl and an eight-year-old boy, were treated at the scene and then taken to hospital. The third youth, the one who set his peers on fire, is also under the age of 12.
The trio was apparently spotted walking down a street at 2 a.m. They were crying and two of the children were reportedly burned badly. The third child ran away when a woman said she was going to phone the RCMP.
Due to his age, the perpetrator cannot be charged with a criminal offense under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Instead, Child and Family Services has jurisdiction in such a case.
It’s not the first time such an atrocity has occurred at the hands of a Saskatchewan youth. A 10-year-old boy beat a six-year-old child to death in 2013 on a reserve in the Southwest. The mother of the victim was playing bingo at the time her child and the older boy left together. The murderer was living at home, but had a history with Social Services. He had behaviour issues and was not supposed to be left in the community unsupervised.
What is wrong with these situations? It is pretty straightforward.
Parents or guardians must take responsibility for children in their care and that includes making sure they are at home before 2 a.m. Young children should not be allowed to roam the streets anywhere late at night. They should be at home, safely tucked in bed and under the care of a responsible adult or trustworthy babysitter every night.
As a parent, I found it difficult to constantly keep an eye our children when they were young. Children may have short legs, but they can certainly move fast when they want to. They seemed to disappear the moment I took my eyes off them. Thankfully, they never went far, but hazards exist everywhere and that includes at home. There are stairs, poisonous substances in our cupboards and storage areas, electrical and power tool hazards, matches, gasoline and other flammable or explosive substances. Furthermore, automobile drivers may never see a small child that is behind or in front of a vehicle.
When I was in my late teens, a close friend had walked around his vehicle before climbing into the driver’s seat. In the time it took him to unlock his truck, climb in, buckle up and start the engine, a toddler crawled across his neighbour’s lawn and was behind his vehicle as he began to back out of the driveway. He felt a small bump under one of the rear tires and therefore stopped. The full horror of the situation hit him when he stepped out and looked at his rear tires.
The child was killed instantly and the incident almost claimed three other lives: mom, dad and my friend who was also traumatized by the death. Nowadays their condition would be called post traumatic stress syndrome, but back then we didn’t know what it was other than severe depression and we sure did not know how to deal with it.
I believe the child’s parents recovered, but it likely took a long time based on my friend’s condition. It was at least two years before he finally began acting like his old self, and even then he continued to suffer from periods of inner pain and darkness.
Regarding youth, it amazes me how many young children I have seen on the streets of Maple Creek late at night. Our town is quite safe, but that does not mean bad stuff will not happen to youth, especially late at night.
I recall one mother, Donna Rodin, who started a Friday night fun program for youth about 20 years ago. It was a well-attended activity, but she did not get a lot of help from other parents. When asked why such a program was started, she said it provided a positive place for children to gather and have fun on Friday night. She explained that some children had no place to go, so the activity provided an alternative to hanging out on the street. If I remember correctly, various organizations and community clubs helped support the activity with donations that allowed the purchase of drinks and snacks for the youth. The program did not put an end to all problems local children faced, but I believe it helped.
If parents are doing a satisfactory job at raising children, it should not take a village to raise a child, but sometimes that is exactly what is required, so let’s be prepared to help out. Regarding the rearing of children, I think we should celebrate a national Grandparents Day. I see many of them coming to the rescue of youth whose parents fail to adequately provide for their children. I am in awe and extend a big thank-you to all those grandparents.