Teens involved in Rosslyn schoolyard assault to enter restorative justice program

Four minors involved in an assault of a Black Edmonton student are entering a restorative justice program rather than facing criminal charges, came an update from police on Monday.

The investigation was closed after police interviewed the minors, complainant, all involved families, 13 witnesses and the community, said staff sergeant Andre Francois, who was in charge of the file.

"Based on previous experiences involving youth and the criminal justice system as well as consultations with the community and those directly involved in this incident, we felt all parties would be better solve by participating in this program rather than face criminal charges and entry into the criminal justice system," Francois told media during a livestreamed news conference.

"We also recognize criminalizing these youths would be inconsistent with a trauma-informed approach, which played a major role in our decision to proceed this way."

Police did not say when they closed the investigation.

RESTORATIVE JUSTICE PROCESS

The April 16 assault of 14-year-old Pazo in the Rosslyn School yard was recorded and published online. Both the violent nature of the attack and racist language used during it brought heavy attention to Edmonton Police Service's handling of the case, and criticism of investigators' ruling it wasn't a hate-motivated incident.

Pazo says he was called the N-word and "monkey" during the attack.

The attackers' use of the derogatory language will be addressed when they go through DIVERSIONfirst, a restorative justice program, EPS assured the public on Monday.

According to sergeant Kendall Booth, who heads the program, all four of the involved youth have begun the intake process. They'll spend between one and two months in the program, which is customized for each participant.

DIVERSIONfirst, launched in 2018, sees an officer and social worker assigned to the youth and their family, and together the parties design a plan that meets their needs. 

At the end, the group meets again to discuss what changes they've seen as a result.

None of the five minors involved had previous criminal involvement. That, and their age, were considered factors for the group of four's entrance to the program, Francois and Booth said.

Social justice advocate and aspiring councillor Haruun Ali called their assignment to the program appropriate.

"Criminalizing what's called the BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, people of colour] students will not do anything," Ali told CTV News Edmonton. "That will not fix the circumstance, whatsoever. But ensuring this doesn't happen to another young Black boy, that's what will fix the situation."

According to Booth, nearly 340 minors have gone through DIVERSIONfirst.

"Youth sometimes will not make just one mistake; they'll make another mistake. Ideally, I'd like to see this a long term study where we can show trajectory as they reach that adult stage," he told media. But EPS' latest data suggested the program is a little more than 90 per cent effective.

This will not be the first time participants were minors involved in an assault, the sergeant added.

INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE FOR HATE-MOTIVATED

A member of Edmonton's anti-racism advisory committee and Canadians United Against Hate agreed the program was an appropriate consequence, but called it symbolic of "two different Edmontons."

"Had the roles been reversed and had it been one white kid getting beat up by peers that were racialized, I don't feel that racialized youth would get the same kind of treatment, you know, being referred into special programs to lift them up," Trent Daley commented.

"There's no easy side to the criminal justice system for racialized folks."

Both he and Ali spoke of broken trust between EPS and the Black community, referencing EPS' continued stance the April 16 attack was not a hate-motivated crime.

On Monday, Francois emphasized the assault was "completely and utterly unacceptable" but reiterated "there was insufficient evidence to support the event was motivated hate, bias or prejudice."

The incident, Francois added, "had some history."

"All of the participants were known to each other. And this incident was a result of previous interactions they had dating back to late last year."

He noted investigators reviewed multiple videos in addition to "the one we all saw."

"So it's important to consider that not everything around this incident was captured in one video clip."

Ali said, "Continually, when hate crimes happen in the city they never come to us and they never recognize us as victims; they recognize the perpetrators as victims."

CTV News Edmonton reached out to Pazo's family's lawyer for comment, but did not hear back.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson