Recently, charges against four youths were laid under the Trespass to Property Act. These charges were disposed of in Provincial Offences Court in Fort Frances on Sept. 24, 2004 before Her Worship Madame Justice P. Clysdale-Cornell.
Specifically, these four youths were charged with the offence of “engaging in a prohibited activity on premises” under s. 2 of the Trespass to Property Act. The activity the charge related to was skateboarding on the sidewalk at Robert Moore School.
Generally, a young person facing a charge of this nature pleads guilty and a period of probation or a fine is levied. The young person is left with a provincial offences record and while this is not as serious as a criminal record, it is a record nonetheless.
As a lawyer practising in Fort Frances, I was concerned about the number of these charges involving youth that were before provincial offences court. It seemed to me that this issue was a community issue and not one that should be involving the criminal justice system.
Youth who are charged rarely have legal representation as they cannot afford counsel and legal aid will not provide assistance. Our law firm agreed to assist the youths and if a trial was required, our firm was prepared to provide ongoing legal counsel.
On Sept. 24, the charges against the youths were withdrawn.
As counsel of record, I am taking this opportunity to express my concern about the circumstances giving rise to these charges. These youth were charged with a quasi-criminal offence that could have resulted in a record had they been found guilty of the heinous crime of skateboarding on school property.
It is my respectful view that the signage at Robert Moore School is woefully inadequate and does not come close to “notice” as defined in the Trespass to Property Act. The school has placed small stickers on the school doors similar to no smoking signs one would find on the doors of public buildings.
By analogy, the public generally assumes that no smoking signs placed on the exterior door of a building indicate that no smoking is allowed inside the building. There is no prohibition with respect to smoking outside.
The same conclusion is reasonably arrived at with the skateboarding sticker signs.
The school door signs show a stylized skateboarder symbol with an ‘X’ marked through it. To any reasonable person, the indication is that skateboarding is not allowed inside Robert Moore School.
There is no clear signage that would give proper notice to the general public that skateboarding is prohibited on the pavement, sidewalk, or exterior grounds of Robert Moore School.
Indeed, the school policy itself is confusing and does not deal directly with the issue of skateboarding. It appears the school board, or Robert Moore School specifically, wants the OPP to “police” and enforce a school policy, without proper notice to the general public, in circumstances where compliance with the statutory requirement of notice is legislated.
Whether or not the youth were guilty or innocent is irrelevant. The fact is that the youth in our community are entitled to a place to skateboard. It is a popular sport, it keeps the youth occupied and busy, they enjoy it, they socialize, and they learn a skill.
While some adults may disapprove of the sport and attach negative connotations to the sport, I suggest parents in the 1950s and 1960s prohibited “rock” music and attempted to prevent the Beatles from appearing in North America.
Notwithstanding, rock music survived parental and other prohibitions, and the Beatles became the most popular musical group in the history of the modern world. Prohibitions simply do not work.
Laying charges only results in polarization between the youth of our community and the police. It further erodes the legitimate role police officers have in maintaining and upholding the rule of law. The school board should not be downloading responsibility to the local police force and justice system to control what it perceives as a problem.
Had the school board been required to retain and pay a lawyer to conduct a private prosecution of the skateboarders, I doubt any charges would have been laid.
The problem is not skateboarders. The problem is that there is nowhere for these young people to participate and engage in an activity that they enjoy. To resolve the problem, the community needs to support the youth. The leaders of the Town of Fort Frances must meaningfully engage in the process of developing a facility for young people who want to skateboard.
There is a cost associated, but the cost of having the criminal justice system deal with the issue, without any resolution, is far greater. The tax dollars expended in this case would be better spent as a contribution towards a skateboarding facility.
The appropriate forum for this community-based issue is not the criminal courts and the provincial court system. This is a waste of valuable resources, which includes lawyers, Crown counsel, the defendants (who had to miss time from school to attend court), their parent (who missed time from work to attend court with their children), courts administration staff, police officers, (three police officers were involved in the investigation of the rogue skateboarders), and, of course, judges.
The justice system recognizes that it is inappropriate to make petty criminals out of skateboarders and it does not resolve much of anything. It is time for the community to acknowledge the problem, define the issue, and provide appropriate solutions.
On a final note, the parents of these skateboarders are to be commended for their resolve and support of their children. The local Crown Attorney, Mr. R. Young, deserves commendation, as well.
He worked with counsel and dealt with this charge proactively, thereby avoiding a trial and further waste of tax dollars—reflective of the phrase, “discretion is the better part of valour.”
Barrister and solicitor