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Two 12-year-olds charged in attack at Edmonton LRT station that left woman in critical condition

The attack happened on Nov. 26 at around 8:30 p.m. when the two girls approached the victim who was sitting on a bench waiting for the LRT, police said.   (Scott Neufeld/CBC - image credit)
The attack happened on Nov. 26 at around 8:30 p.m. when the two girls approached the victim who was sitting on a bench waiting for the LRT, police said. (Scott Neufeld/CBC - image credit)

Rare criminal charges laid against two 12-year-old girls are prompting questions about safety on Edmonton's transit system.

Two 12-year-old girls have been charged with aggravated assault following a violent attack at an Edmonton transit station late last month that left a woman in critical condition, police said in a news release Monday.

The 55-year-old victim, who police say was "assaulted to the point of unconsciousness" on the Coliseum LRT platform, remains in hospital with significant head and facial injuries.

The attack happened on Nov. 26 at around 8:30 p.m., when the two girls approached the victim who was sitting on a bench waiting for the LRT, police said.

The girls fled the scene following the assault but were caught by police nearby.

The 12-year-olds can't be named because the Youth Criminal Justice Act protects the identity of anyone under the age of 18 accused or convicted of committing a criminal offence.

Twelve is the youngest age that criminal charges can be laid against a person in Canada, Edmonton criminal defence lawyer Graham Johnson said Tuesday.

He said it's unusual because when children that age commit crimes, it's generally an offence like theft, and it can often be dealt with outside of the court system.

"It's rarely seen that a 12-year-old is charged. I think in almost 20 years of practice, I've had one 12-year-old client," Johnson said.

Given how few comparable cases there are and how little is known about the allegations and specific circumstances in the case, it's hard to say what kind of a sentence might be handed out if the girls were to be convicted, Johnson said.

However, there are general principles for sentencing youth – one of the most important being that young people have a diminished moral culpability because of their age, immaturity, and still developing brains, Johnson said.

The maximum possible youth sentence is two years, with a mix of being in custody and on supervision in the community.

Johnson said that unlike with some older youth offenders, a Crown prosecutor would not be able to seek an adult sentence for a 12-year-old.

He also said he would be surprised if a maximum youth sentence were imposed on a 12-year-old.

Johnson said that high-profile youth cases like this one often prompt a lot of criticism of the youth criminal justice system, and calls for harsher penalties.

"People should not get a distorted impression that suddenly there's 12-year-olds running around committing aggravated assaults," he said. "This is a highly unusual situation and I think it's important that people not lose sight of that."

Questions about transit safety

On Tuesday, Edmonton police issued a news release about another violent attack at Coliseum station that happened on Nov. 12.

According to the release, a 58-year-old man got off the LRT at about 7:15 a.m. and then boarded a bus. He was looking out the window when he was randomly assaulted by another man who then fled the scene.

The incidents have prompted renewed questions about safety and trust in transit generally at city hall.

"When we have incidents like we had at the Coliseum LRT Station last week, that sets us back. We lose the social currency, we lose the approval of our constituents to spend money on transit, when transit is perpetually viewed as unsafe," Coun. Tim Cartmell said.

Cartmell said that transit is largely safe, but that it is important to act on incidents like last week's attack because they undermine trust in the system. He said that's why he moved a notice of motion to try piloting turnstiles at a few LRT stations to see if it helps reduce violent incidents.

Coun. Ashley Salvador said that even though the city has taken steps to ramp up security in the transit system, high-profile violent incidents can shape people's perceptions that transit isn't safe.

She said increasing not only security but getting more riders on trains and buses will help make the system safer.

"Thousands of trips are taken every single day on our transit system every single day, but incidents like this don't help," she said.