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Moment of youth 

The public inquiry into Theresa McEvoy’s death and social services for at-risk youth begins. Robin Gillingham reports.

It’s been one year.

One year since 52-year-old Theresa McEvoy was killed when a stolen Chrysler LeBaron broadsided her silver 1991 Toyota Camry as she drove through the Almon and Connaught intersection in west-end Halifax. One year since a 16-year-old boy was charged with a number of offences, including criminal negligence causing death, related to the tragic crash. One year since a Windsor judge released the boy despite a number of charges stemming from a 50-kilometre high-speed police chase and a warrant for his arrest in Halifax on 26 other criminal charges.

One year to the week—precisely—and the province has begun its public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding McEvoy’s death and the boy’s release from that Windsor courtroom on October 12, 2004, just two days before the fatal car crash.

Though justice Merlin Nunn was appointed as commission chair in June, the inquiry is now officially open as the commission begins its search for “evidence”—documents, witnesses and expert testimony—important to figuring out what exactly happened, whether fault lies with the Youth Criminal Justice Act itself or with the system and the individuals who administrate it.

“ will focus on procedures, practices and people around his circumstances,” says Michael Messenger, lead counsel for the commission, referring to the now 17-year-old boy charged in the case.

That means the commission will look at why the boy was released on October 12, what the procedures were at the time of his release, whether they were adequate and whether law enforcement, the prosecutor’s office and the courts acted appropriately at the time the boy was let go.

People and groups with a direct interest in the inquiry have until October 21 to apply for standing at the public hearings, which could then begin as early as December. If that happens, the public inquiry will coincide with the highly-publicized criminal proceedings, as the Crown continues to seek an adult sentence in the criminal case and a sentencing hearing is scheduled for December.

Before calling the public inquiry last November, justice minister Michael Baker concluded from an internal review the boy had been released because of a mistake and a lapse in memory. He said a Halifax prosecutor forgot to send papers to transfer the accused teen into custody and a Windsor prosecutor should have asked a provincial court judge not to release the boy because of the Halifax charges.

The independent inquiry will go further than the internal review though. “The job of the inquiry is to look at what happened in a broader sense,” says Messenger.

When McEvoy’s family originally called for the inquiry nearly one year ago, that was one of their intentions. Not only did they hope to find out the circumstances that led to the boy’s release on October 12, but they also wanted to ensure that no other family would have to go through what they’ve experienced.

Hugh Wright, lawyer for the McEvoy family, says the family welcomes the inquiry’s broader mandate. “The youth criminal justice system is not just the police, prosecutors and the jails,” says Wright. “It’s a much broader system and it has to focus more on the young person, the troubles of the young person and responding to those.”

Though the inquiry will focus on the circumstances surrounding one particular case, Wright says the family hopes to look at some broader issues, such as the role of social service providers in responding to at-risk youth, when it applies for standing at the public hearings.

“On a systemic basis, it’s quite clear that the youth criminal justice system failed Nova Scotians on October 14, 2004, and in particular, failed Theresa McEvoy and her family,” says Wright. “The purpose of the commission is to get all the facts out on the table so we can find out why this happened and make sure that it never happens again.”

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