New Toronto courthouse will centralize criminal proceedings but lawyers group objects
Toronto Lawyers Association warns move might save money but will harm access to justice
The Toronto Lawyers Association says a plan to amalgamate the city's small satellite provincial courthouses into one big 'super court' downtown will mean less access to justice.
Right now, the site of the new Ontario Court of Justice criminal courthouse is nothing more than a hole in ground near University Avenue and Queen Street West, just north of where the Ontario Superior Court is now located at 361 University Ave. The tentative completion date is sometime in 2021 and the estimated cost could be as high as $1 billion.
When it's finished It will replace courthouses spread throughout the city, including at 1000 Finch Ave. West, the College Park Courts at 444 Yonge St., Scarborough Court at 1911 Eglinton Ave. E. and the Old City Hall court at 60 Queen St. W.
But an organization representing lawyers in the city is unimpressed.
"It's not going to work," said Melanie Manchee, president of the Toronto Lawyers Association.
The province says consolidating operations now happening in different locations into one state-of-the-art facility will save as much as $700-million over 30 years in lease fees.
But, among other concerns, Manchee says the plan will move all bail hearings to a courthouse near Finch Avenue West and Weston Road, an area that's not on a subway line.
"If the family of an accused gets a call around midnight and they've got to get out there and find a lawyer and a surety in time for a hearing the next morning it's a real challenge," she said.
In a statement emailed to CBC Toronto, Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General confirmed that "upon the opening of the new Toronto courthouse (NTC), all adult bail proceedings, including an Indigenous Persons Court, as well as associated plea courts and intake courts will be located at 2201 Finch."
But that after renovations "the courthouse will be equipped with the technology required to deliver modern, accessible justice services and interconnectivity with the NTC," the email states.
It also says that bringing most Ontario Court of Justice criminal court proceedings under one roof will better serve Toronto by having justice programs and services — including drug treatment, Indigenous persons, youth and mental health courts, and support for victims — in a single location.
Manchee says the TLA and other legal associations have been in consultation meeting with ministry officials and have pointed out the difficulty in pushing all bail hearing to such a remote location.
'Our voice has not been heard'
"It appears our voice has not been heard or opinions have not been acknowledged to be relevant," she said.
Another concern is that the new courthouse, which will be a short walk from St. Patrick subway station, directly north of the courthouse at 361 University Ave. will put additional pressure on parking available in the area.
The ministry says the new court will have video conferencing to allow witnesses to appear from remote locations and individuals in custody to appear from detention facilities.
Currently, Ontario Court of Justice matters are heard in five leased locations, in some cases in strip malls that some have described as "cramped" and "dismal."
But Manchee says the courthouses in Toronto's various communities helps people get justice.
"From the perspective of Torontonians these satellite provincial courthouses have worked pretty well," she said.