Think tank releases report card on Canada's justice system

Canada's justice system scores high on being slow, expensive and inefficient in a report card issued today by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. It graded provinces and territories on public safety, victims' support, efficiency, fairness and access to justice, and costs and resources.

Territories and Manitoba score lowest, P.E.I. highest based on cost and effectiveness

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute has graded the justice systems of each province and territory. Atlantic Canada and Quebec scored highest while the three territories and Manitoba are at the bottom of the list. (CBC)

Canada's justice system scores high on being slow, expensive and inefficient in a report card issued Wednesday by a public policy think tank.

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute grades provinces and territories in five categories: public safety, victims support, efficiency, fairness and access to justice, and costs and resources.

University of British Columbia law professor Benjamin Perrin is one of the report's authors. With Canada's justice system costing roughly $11 billion a year, he felt it was time to look at the numbers.

"We have regular report cards on health care and education systems. They assess their performance, they tell us how well they're doing and they have spurred necessary reforms," said Perrin. "We thought it was high time to have a good, hard look at the justice system."

The report card is based on comparable information, much of it from Statistics Canada. And while Perrin and co-author Richard Audas did not seek to explain or justify why some provinces performed better than others, they did highlight how the territories face challenges of isolation, geography and higher costs.

Overall, Yukon scored lowest, followed by Manitoba, Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

Nunavut: 'Staggeringly high violent crime rates'

In Yukon, policing and corrections costs were found to be higher than any other province. The territory also spends comparatively little on legal aid for criminal matters. The rate of violent crime is high, but not as high as another territory.

"Nunavut has staggeringly high violent crime rates — by far the highest in Canada," the report says. Conviction rates are lower than average, as are the number of restitution orders issued by the courts. As for legal aid, the territory would not share how much it spends.

Provincial and territorial rankings and grades

Among provinces, Manitoba's criminal justice system ranks the worst, with high levels of violent and property crimes.

"Public perception of the police in Manitoba is among the lowest in Canada, with dismal ratings for enforcing the law, ensuring safety, satisfaction with safety, supplying information, being approachable, being fair and responding promptly," the report said.

Among the provinces in the middle of the pack, British Columbia is highlighted for having the worst record for clearing violent crimes and not referring many people to victims' services. As with almost every jurisdiction, there is also a disproportionate rate of Indigenous people behind bars.

Ontario's criminal justice system not so fair or efficient

Ontario also received a mediocre grade. On the plus side, the province "has the lowest violent crime rate per capita in Canada and second lowest property crime rate after Quebec."

There's an awful lot of people being dragged through the Ontario criminal justice system who are ultimately having their charges stayed, withdrawn or acquitted- Benjamin Perrin, co-author of report

Of concern to the report's authors, though, is the efficiency and fairness of Ontario's criminal justice system.

Perrin points to how police can directly lay charges in Ontario. In Quebec, police may only do so after getting approval from a Crown prosecutor. So, in Quebec, only 8.6 per cent of charges are stayed or withdrawn. In Ontario, it's 43 per cent — the highest in Canada.

"This is after a person has been arrested and charged and of course all of the costs and consequences that come to an individual from that occurring. Also, then, victims seeing these charges withdrawn, having a loss of faith in the justice system in Ontario," said Perrin.

He adds that carries through to the percentage of accused people found guilty — just 55 per cent.

"So there's an awful lot of people being dragged through the Ontario criminal justice system who are ultimately having their charges stayed, withdrawn or acquitted. That is costing millions of dollars to the province but it's also plugging up the system so that really important cases don't make it through," said Perrin.

Atlantic provinces and Quebec scored highest. 

P.E.I. at the top

Quebec spends less per person on public safety than any other jurisdiction, and has the lowest violent and property crime rates in Canada. That said, it has the curious distinction of having the most persons being unlawfully at large, according to the report.

Prince Edward Island bested all provinces and territories. And the report's authors warn readers not to discount the province due to its small population. They highlight the efficiency of the criminal justice system with faster trials, fewer accused in remand and a relatively low number of criminal charges being stayed or withdrawn. P.E.I. also has one of the highest rates for restitution orders for victims and islanders think well of their police.

Looking forward, Perrin hopes the report card will prompt discussion about improving the justice system, as well as the available information.

"There is a lot of data we were shocked Statistics Canada does not collect. So, for example, you'd think what is one of the most important measures of the success of a justice system? It would be whether someone actually rehabilitates.

"And, in fact, there's no national statistics that you can get broken down by province and territory on recidivism rates," said Perrin.

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About the Author

Alison Crawford is a senior reporter in CBC's parliamentary bureau, covering justice, public safety, the Supreme Court and Liberal Party of Canada.


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