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Criminal Cases in Ontario on Verge of Collapse Due to Courthouse Chaos

Criminal Cases in Ontario on Verge of Collapse Due to Courthouse Chaos

Ontario is on the verge of a legal crisis as hundreds of criminal cases face the possibility of being thrown out due to excessive delays caused by a combination of staffing problems in Toronto and persistent mould issues in nearby Milton, which have completely halted in-person trials. This dire situation is raising concerns about access to justice and the fate of numerous legal proceedings.

Toronto’s Ongoing Staffing Crisis

In Toronto, the staffing shortages at a brand-new billion-dollar courthouse in the heart of the city have reached such a severe and chronic level that daily meetings between court officials and senior judges are required to determine the number of courtrooms that must be closed. On some days, as many as 18 courtrooms have had to be shut down due to the staffing shortage. As a result, high-priority cases take precedence, leading to rescheduled court dates and further delays for other cases.

These staffing issues have cast a long shadow over the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees criminally accused individuals the right to a timely trial. The Supreme Court of Canada has set specific time limits, allowing 18 months for trials in provincial courts and 30 months for superior courts. However, exceptions are made for delays caused by “exceptional circumstances,” and Ontario judges argue that the staffing crisis does not qualify as an exception but a chronic issue that demands resolution.

Milton’s Mould Problems

Meanwhile, in Milton, judges from the Superior Court of Justice were forced to vacate the courthouse due to ongoing mould problems. This followed a similar move by judges from the Ontario Court of Justice in late August. The mould situation resulted in the adjournment of three cases, including a critical human trafficking case, on a recent Monday.

While the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General contends that air sample tests for mould and asbestos in the Milton courthouse remain within acceptable limits, the judges exercise their independence to make resource-related decisions. However, the Superior Court is currently seeking alternative hearing spaces in locations such as Oakville, Brampton, and Guelph, while the Court of Justice cases will move to Burlington. This reshuffling of cases is expected to create further delays, much like the situation in Toronto.

Legal Implications and Concerns

Understandably, there is mounting concern that this combination of staffing shortages and mould problems may jeopardize the legal rights of accused individuals and victims, potentially leading to the dismissal of hundreds of cases. Daniel Brown, the president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association in Ontario, expressed his worry that many cases are now approaching their time limits, and without immediate action, they may be at risk of being thrown out.

Both criminal defense lawyer Brendan Neil and Mr. Brown emphasized the immense pressure these issues are placing on courthouses and legal professionals. Finding suitable venues for cases transferred from Milton has become a significant challenge, and cases are at risk of “dropping like flies.”

Furthermore, these challenges are forcing prosecution officials to reconsider which cases to prioritize and potentially drop or resolve in alternative ways. The president of the Ontario Crown Attorneys’ Association has yet to comment on the situation, but it’s evident that the crisis is causing ripple effects throughout the justice system.

Judges have been vocal in their criticism of the ongoing problems, documenting their concerns on court records and calling on the Ontario government to address these long-standing issues. Justice Peter Fraser of the Ontario Court of Justice in Toronto lamented that staff shortages have disrupted the court’s orderly conduct of business, leading to the unreasonable delay in some cases. He emphasized that no justification had been provided for the state of affairs and considered it a “startling failure” of the state’s responsibility to staff the courts.

The union representing courthouse staff has attributed the problems to low wages, increased workloads, and burnout among court reporters and clerks, further exacerbating the staffing crisis.

Long-standing Mould Issue in Milton

The mould problem in the Milton courthouse is not new, as it resulted in an extended closure starting in the fall of 2020. While the previous government had announced plans to construct a new courthouse, the ruling Progressive Conservatives decided to opt for remediation of the existing building instead, which now appears to be failing to address the persistent mould issue.

Andrew Kennedy, press secretary for Attorney-General Doug Downey, stated that the government is aware that more needs to be done and is actively working to address the issues to ensure that victims have access to justice, and offenders are held accountable. Nevertheless, the future of hundreds of criminal cases in Ontario remains uncertain as the legal system grapples with these unprecedented challenges.

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Ontario’s New Legislation Aims to Combat Sexual Violence and Harassment

Ontario's New Legislation Aims to Combat Sexual Violence and Harassment

Ontario is taking significant steps to create a safer and more inclusive province by introducing groundbreaking legislation designed to combat sexual violence and harassment while providing stronger support for survivors. The government’s proposed Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act, part of the “It’s Never Okay” initiative, is poised to usher in a new era of safety and accountability across workplaces, campuses, and communities.

If passed, this legislation will enforce crucial measures to protect individuals and enhance the response to sexual violence and harassment. The key provisions of the Act include:

– Requiring all publicly assisted colleges, universities, and private career colleges to establish and periodically review stand-alone sexual violence policies in collaboration with students every three years.
– Strengthening requirements for sexual harassment prevention programs and establishing specific employer obligations to safeguard workers, including conducting thorough investigations into incidents and complaints.
– Removing the limitation period for civil proceedings based on sexual assault and, in some cases, sexual misconduct or assault, allowing survivors to file claims whenever they choose.
– Eliminating the limitation period for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence to seek compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.
– Expediting the process for terminating tenancy agreements for individuals experiencing sexual or domestic violence, providing survivors with an easier escape from abusive situations.

These legislative changes are part of Ontario’s commitment to create a province where everyone is free from the threat of sexual violence and harassment, and where survivors receive the support they need. The government is also dedicated to providing stable funding to community-based sexual assault centers and hospital-based sexual assault and domestic violence treatment centers, ensuring that survivors have access to the assistance they require.

Furthermore, the province is taking a multifaceted approach to address this issue, with a comprehensive action plan that includes not only legal reforms but also public awareness campaigns. A province-wide public education initiative has been launched to promote a shift in attitudes and behaviors, striving to create a culture that rejects sexual violence and harassment. Additionally, the government has recently announced a Creative Engagement Fund of $2.25 million, aimed at supporting artistic projects that challenge rape culture and promote positive change.

Supporting survivors of sexual violence and creating a safer, more inclusive, and equitable province is an integral part of the government’s broader plan to uplift Ontario. This vision encompasses investing in the development of people’s talents and skills, undertaking the largest-ever public infrastructure investment in the province’s history, fostering an environment where businesses can thrive, and establishing a secure retirement savings plan for the future.

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Toronto City Council Passes Motion to Declare Family Violence an Epidemic

Toronto City Council Passes Motion to Declare Family Violence an Epidemic

The Toronto City Council took a significant step on Thursday by officially designating gender-based violence and intimate partner violence as an epidemic within the city. In a unanimous decision, council members, under the leadership of newly elected Mayor Olivia Chow, called upon the Ontario provincial government and the federal government to follow suit.

The declaration by Toronto City Council follows recent developments in which the province of Ontario declined to make a similar acknowledgment. Mayor Chow, who has been vocal about her own mother’s experiences of abuse at the hands of her father, emphasized the critical role of available support, particularly safe and affordable housing, in helping survivors rebuild their lives.

Chow shared a personal story during the council meeting, saying, “Because I had a basement apartment, even though it was one mattress and one bed, we were able to share the mattress, she was able to live with me, which began her new life … a lot of women and their children are trapped because they can’t afford to move out. We need to give hope to women and children that are experiencing violence now, and one way to give hope is to say that you can recover.”

The motion proposed by Mayor Chow not only passed without opposition but also encouraged other levels of government to implement recommendations stemming from an inquest into the tragic deaths of three Ontario women at the hands of their former partners.

These recommendations, made over a year ago by a coroner’s inquest jury, encompassed various aspects of preventing such tragedies. Key among them was the formal declaration of intimate partner violence as an epidemic. The majority of these recommendations were directed at the provincial government, which, in late June, declined to make the declaration, citing the argument that intimate partner violence is not an infectious or communicable disease. Additionally, the province declined to establish an intimate partner violence commission or create the role of a survivor advocate, as suggested by the inquest jury, fearing duplication of existing systems.

However, Ontario expressed its commitment to working on and accepting numerous other recommendations, including exploring mechanisms for individuals to discover if their partner has a history of intimate partner violence.

While the declaration itself is largely symbolic, advocates view it as a means to leverage a public health framework to support survivors and raise awareness of the issue as a broader societal phenomenon.

Toronto now joins the ranks of 30 other municipalities across Ontario that have previously made similar declarations of intimate partner violence as an epidemic. These municipalities include Ottawa, Peel Region, Halton Region, and Renfrew County.

Statistics Canada reveals that in 2021, 90 homicide victims were killed by intimate partners, with the majority being women and girls. This marked an increase from 84 victims in 2020 and 77 victims in 2019.

The Toronto declaration also calls for the inclusion of the term “femicide” in the Criminal Code, aligning with one of the recommendations made by the coroner’s inquest to the federal government. Femicide is defined as “the killing of one or more females, primarily by males, because they are female,” as per the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice.

As of late June, Ottawa had not responded to the recommendations from the coroner’s office. The motion passed by Toronto City Council also implores the provincial and federal governments to provide the necessary support to effectively address intimate partner violence.

Furthermore, the city aims to gather insights from various stakeholders, including Toronto’s chief medical officer, Indigenous affairs office, law enforcement, and community organizations, to determine the best course of action and investments in programs and services related to this declaration.

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