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Saskatchewan: Injustice to youth

Saskatchewan leads in jailed youth

Scroll down to check out the budget -- In 2005, the centenary year, there is still nothing to address youth problems

REGINA -- More young offenders are locked up in Saskatchewan than anywhere else in Canada, says a Statistics Canada report.

The province has the highest youth incarceration rate in Canada at 34 per 10,000 youth, according to 2002-03 figures released by the national agency. The national average is 12.5 per 10,000 youth.

"These aren't the most current figures, but it is true Saskatchewan had the highest youth incarceration rate in that year and has had in the previous 10 years," said Corrections and Public Safety Department spokesperson Bob Kary.

Kary, the executive director of youth offender programs, pointed out Saskatchewan's overall crime rate is the highest of the provinces. And he said there is a correlation between the crime rate and the incarceration rate for adults and young offenders.

Kary also acknowledged there was an over-representation of aboriginal youth in custody. The high rate of incarceration among aboriginal youth is generally seen as a reflection of the circumstances that affect many of these teens and put them at risk of offending -- such as drug and alcohol use, dropping out of school, high levels of unemployment, lack of supervision in the home, a breakdown of families and associated with other teens involved in crime.

Incarceration rates are coming down provincially and across the country, Kary said.

The average number of youths in custody in Saskatchewan on any given day was 260 in 2003-04 compared to 331 in 2002-03, he said. The average number of youths on probation also decreased to 1,358 in March 2004 from 1,751 in April 2003.

The Statistics Canada report, which tracked young people involved in the criminal justice system, noted the country's youth incarceration rate reached its lowest point in eight years in 2002-03.

On any given day in 2002-03, an average of just under 29,400 youth aged 12 to 17 were either in custody or under supervised probation in Canada The vast majority -- about 26,400 -- were on probation, the report said.

Of the remaining 2,980 youth, 850 were in temporary detention awaiting a court appearance or sentencing 1,070 were in secure custody and 1,060 were in open custody.

The national figures excluded Ontario, because data for 12 and 15-year-olds was unavailable, according to Statistics Canada.


Few Surprises in budget

REGINA - Saskatchewan's NDP government will hold the line on taxes and increase spending by $400-million to shorten surgical waiting lists and freeze university tuition in the coming year.

The government also plans to stick to its guns when it comes to new contracts for unhappy public-sector workers, refusing to offer more than a 2 per cent wage increase over the next three years.

Finance Minister Harry Van Mulligen introduced the 2005-06 budget in the legislature Wednesday, calling it a plan that focuses on Saskatchewan's priorities.

"As you can tell, the smile I have is a little bit wider than it was last year," he said.

"I'm excited about the budget."

Mr. Van Mulligen is predicting a razor-thin $69,000 surplus when it comes to government programs. But when deficits at Crown corporations and treasury board organizations - such as regional health authorities - are included, the budget is actually more than $173-million in the red.

Spending is up in the budget by about $400-million over the previous year to nearly $7.2-billion.

That's thanks in large part to high oil prices that have been a boon to the province in recent months and are expected to stay above $35 dollars (U.S.) a barrel into 2007.

The government will spend an extra $192-million on health this year, including $36.5-million for new or upgraded facilities in at least 10 different communities.

About $4-million will be spent to reduce the list of people who have been waiting for a medical procedure for more than one year. Nearly $5-million will be spent to increase the number of MRI and CT scans.

Education will see an increase of $74-million dollars for an overall budget of $1.2-billion. The extra spending will include $6.7-million for the universities in Regina and Saskatoon so they can hold the line on tuition this year.

While there are no new taxes in the budget, there is little new tax relief either.

There is $55-million for a previously announced eight per cent cut to the education portion of property tax bills. The government will also reduce the aviation fuel tax by $800,000 to encourage airlines to buy their fuel in Saskatchewan.

Mr. Van Mulligen dismissed suggestions that his government should rescind the percentage-point hike to the provincial sales tax brought in last year, saying that would have cost $145-million.

He also ruled out boosting the 2 per cent wage mandate the government instituted last year for public-sector contracts.

About 50,000 teachers, nurses and health support workers will be looking for new contracts this year and have dismissed the government's cap on wage increases.

Members of the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation have voted overwhelmingly to approve job action if necessary to push their demands.

The Opposition Saskatchewan Party said the government should have done more with the windfall it has been reaping from high oil prices.

Finance critic Ken Cheveldayoff said the government should have cut income tax rates, especially for low income earners.

He also said more money should have been set aside for contract negotiations, particularly with teachers.

"This budget is remarkable for what it doesn't contain," Mr. Cheveldayoff said.

"Never before has a government done so little with so much."

BUDGET HIGHLIGHTS

• No tax increases, but several fee hikes announced earlier, such as increased court fees and traffic fines, will add $2.2-million in revenue.

• Health spending increases by $192-million to $2.9-billion, with $4-million to reduce surgical wait times and $4.7-million for more MRI and CT testing.

• Education spending increases by $74.4-million to $1.2-billion, including a $6.7-million one-time grant to allow universities in Regina and Saskatoon to freeze tuition for the year.

• $6-million will be spent to boost social assistance rates and help people move off social assistance and into the work force.

• The province will fund 18 new police officers across Saskatchewan.

• In an attempt to attract more airline service, the province will cut the aviation fuel tax from 3.5 cents to 1.5 cents per litre; the tax will be eliminated for international flights that stop over in the province.

• The province will set up a business tax review committee to recommend tax changes to boost job creation.