Toronto Star, March 11, 1998

Academy not a model for boot camps, province says
"It's a private school, not young offender facility" Runciman says
By Joel Ruimy, Toronto Star Queen's Park Bureau Chief

Solicitor-General Bob Runciman says the province didn't model its young-offender boot camp after Robert Land Academy - even though Premier Mike Harris used the private school as a campaign backdrop in the 1995 elections.

"To suggest that we're modeling the strict-discipline approach on Robert Land is not factually correct," Runciman said yesterday during a news conference to announce extension of boot-camp regulations from one pilot project to the 16 remaining youth jails in Ontario starting today.

In a reference to the two teens who were fatally struck by a train Saturday night after running away from the military-style school, Runciman added that "to try and draw parallels here is unfortunate.

"I don't want to draw an analogy with that situation," he added. "Clearly it's not a young offender facility. It's a private school, a military-style private school."

Harris visited the school during the last campaign, suggesting at the time that the school's get-tough approach was what the Progressive Conservatives had in mind for corrections centres catering to 16- and 17-year-olds.

The timing of Runciman's announcement yesterday - just two days after the deaths of the two Robert Land teens - brought questions about the strict-discipline approach.

The boot-camp issue is a political trouble spot for Runciman.

Two youths escaped from the pilot facility north of Barrie last year on the eve of a visit there by the minister and reporters.

Runciman announced yesterday that most of the measures in place at the pilot camp will be imposed on the 16 other detention centres, which he said now are a ``patchwork'' of different approaches.

Among the measures:

  • Structured 16-hour days beginning at 6:45 a.m.

  • No video games (existing machines will be donated to community groups).

  • Mandatory studies and homework.

  • Earned rather than automatic recreation time.

    Runciman said the new measures are in response to a 64-per-cent re-offend rate among convicted teens "who show disrespect for law and order."

    When one reporter cited Statistics Canada figures showing crime is declining across Canada, Runciman replied that he has "some trouble with the federal statistics."

    "Some levels of crime are not being fully reported,'' he said, suggesting that the StatsCan numbers may not be painting a true picture of criminal activity in Canada.

    NDP justice critic Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold), who attended the news conference yesterday in an outbuilding at the Toronto (Don) Jail, assailed the tough new measures on young convicts.

    "It's sad and it's been noted that this takes place within days of serious questions being asked about the efficacy of Robert Land Academy which clearly was Mike Harris' inspiration for the boot-camp approach," he said.

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