10 youth justice centres closing in northern Ontario

There are now fewer places in northern Ontario where youth in conflict with the law can serve their time.

Ministry cites 80 percent reduction in admissions over the past seven years

William H. Roy House in Sudbury was one of ten youth justice centres closed in northern Ontario (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

There are now fewer places in northern Ontario where youth in conflict with the law can serve their time.

The Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services has closed 10 of 18 youth justice centres – facilities where 12-17-year-olds serve sentences for various crimes.

The ministry says in a statement that over the past seven years, admission rates have dropped by 80 per cent due to more emphasis on prevention and education under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The remaining youth justice centres are located in Thunder Bay, Fort Frances, Sault Ste Marie and Sudbury.

The ministry issued a statement.

"The decision to close these facilities is a difficult one, however, these changes are in line with recommendations made by the Auditor General. These actions will address the significant under-utilization, build a sustainable system that will fully support youth in conflict with the law and will allow the government to reinvest more than $39.9 million annually into programs that support Ontario families and communities."

One of the closures is the William H. Roy House for girls in Sudbury.

Cory Roslyn, the executive director of the Elizabeth Fry society, says it was nearly empty the last couple of years, and the province should put the money into mental health and addictions programs.

"I would like to see those dollars reinvested in the community to provide support for youth," Roslyn said. "We're certainly in our community specifically missing long-term mental health and addiction supports."

"And we're speaking about youth in this case, which I think is certainly needed in our community," Roslyn said. "We're seeing youth who are experiencing mental health issues, long-standing mental health issues that are about more than resolving a crisis situation."

They made a decision that was based on what's good for money, not what's good for children- Irwin Elman, former provincial children's advocate

But Irwin Elman, a former children's advocate, says decisions affecting children should never be based on money alone.

"I'm not saying money is not important, but they made a decision that was based on what's good for money, not what's good for children," Elman said.

"They did not even bother to think about whether we have a problem. We have beds we don't need to use... how do we save some money, but still make sure that young people are cared for properly?"

"That was not the decision. The decision was 'we have beds. It's costing us a lot of money. Let's close them.'" 

Elman says the families were not informed of the facilities closing and the children were scared at the sudden move to a distant, unfamiliar place.

The province says fewer than 10 children were transferred because of the closures.

In response to a CBC reporter in Thunder Bay, a ministry spokesperson wrote in an email, "Youth from northern communities were transferred to the remaining facilities in the northern region. Youth and families were notified of these transfers by their ministry probation officer"

The Grand Chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation says many of those children are Indigenous and he's shocked that they were summarily re-located. Alvin Fiddler says the experience was traumatizing to them.

Fiddler says he doesn't trust the government to do what's best for the children and has called a town hall meeting among communities in NAN territory.

He is looking for ideas to create an Indigenous-led youth justice system that would keep young people closer to home.

"That's the whole idea is to empower our families and communities to be able to look after their own children; that we should not lose any more  kids to the child welfare system or the youth justice system because we know now that these systems are harming our children more than helping them."


With files from Kate Rutherford & Bienvenu Senga