Canadian Consulting Engineer

Fight for Life

August 1, 2000
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

Joe Wamback has just come in from "doing that suburban thing," mowing the lawn. It used to be his son Jonathan's job, Wamback says. And by next summer, Jonathan will be doing it again.At the end of Ju...

Joe Wamback has just come in from “doing that suburban thing,” mowing the lawn. It used to be his son Jonathan’s job, Wamback says. And by next summer, Jonathan will be doing it again.

At the end of June last year, on the first day of his summer holidays, Wamback’s 15-year-old son was attacked in a park by a large group of teenaged boys. The beating was so severe that Jonathan died and was resuscitated twice before lapsing into a coma that lasted three months. He has since fought paralysis, regaining the ability to speak and move, and is working toward the goal of walking again. Mowing the lawn will no doubt be a great pleasure.

A consultant in design/ build construction, Joe Wamback is an engineering technology graduate of what is now Ryerson Polytechnical University. “Most of my work is marketing contractors’ services and project management,” he says. He says that their biggest problem right now is getting labour. So while there is a lot of construction going on, it’s not happening at the desired pace.

But then, neither is Wamback’s unpaid but equally demanding second career: his fight to change the country’s young offenders’ legislation. In February, he made a presentation to the justice committee that is gathering opinions about Bill C-3, the government’s Youth Criminal Justice Act, which would replace the Young Offenders’ Act. He was one of many presenters who are against the changes.

“The Young Offenders Act has been described as one of the most complicated in the civilized world,” he explains. It is 70 sections long. [Justice Minister Anne] McLellan’s new one is 200 sections long.” His major concern is that this new version, like its predecessor, will be useless as a deterrent. “It will just increase the length of time between the behaviour and the consequence,” which he believes is already much too long. A year after the kids assaulted my son, he says, they had a bail hearing, and there won’t be a trial for another six months. They have gone through another year of school, of normal life, with no consequences for their actions.

Wamback and his wife, Lozanne, are committed to seeing changes made that will deter aberrant or violent behaviour. Among other things, they are asking for substantive bail, consecutive sentencing (essentially additional time for additional offences), and for swarming to be recognized as organized crime so that offenders will be seen as equally guilty, rather than having all of them get off lightly because a judge cannot establish who dealt the killing blow. In mid-July, Toronto’s chief of police, Julian Fantino, became signatory number 900,000 on the petition the Wambacks are circulating. Previous efforts by victims’ families have collected as many as 100,000 signatures, but the calls for change have fallen on deaf ears. “I’m looking for support from the engineering community from coast to coast,” Wamback says. (His web site is

Soon he’ll be looking for a different kind of support closer to home. Wamback has agreed to seek the nomination for the Progressive Conservative Party in his riding of York North. Although he is under no illusions about how difficult it is to effect change even from inside the House of Commons, he is hopeful.

“This [attack on our son] has really changed what’s important to us. I would like to save the life of one victim — just one — then I will have achieved my goal, I will feel successful.”

“I’m tenacious,” he adds superfluously. This characteristic seems to run in the family: it may ensure that Jonathan gets his old job back in time for next year’s mowing season.Sophie Kneisel


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