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Dear soon-to-be-premier,

June 11, 2018

The Honourable Doug Ford, MPP

Premier designate of the province of Ontario

Re: Efficiencies in the justice system

Dear soon-to-be-premier,

A few short weeks before the election, you took the time to stop for a selfie with me on the streets of Toronto. I am sure that this happens quite a lot in your line of work. I doubt that you remember. But maybe you do. That day, my spouse had just finished a seven-hour canvass for the NDP and was covered in orange buttons. She was also politely heckling as we had our picture taken. I will admit, it was slightly awkward. But, even as we told you there was no way your party would ever get our vote, you took time to stop and talk with us. Then you gave me you cell number and told me to text you if I ever had any questions. I am told that this is a very Ford thing to do.

And then, a week later, I did text you. The Ottawa Police Association has just endorsed the Progressive Conservatives. Their key issues were rolling back legislative limits to carding and Bill 175, which strengthened police oversight. So, I sent a text to you to ask your position on these important issues. Within two hours, you called me back and told me that you did not support carding and that you would review Bill 175 line by line but that you were in favour of oversight to deal with bad police apples. Maybe you were just telling me what I wanted to hear, but as you promised a week before, on the streets of Toronto, you did call back.

I have never seen eye to eye with the federal Conservatives on justice issues. But I also have some big problems with what the Liberals have and have not done on that file. Justice, policing and correctional policy should not be a partisan issue. It is also no secret that much of your platform causes me serious concern — climate change is real, taxes are not bad and buck-a-beer is one of the pander-iest election promises ever. But you took the time to listen to me once, so I hope you will take the time to listen one more time.

Rational and responsible justice policy can be a hard sell and after decades of crime and punishment being used as red meat to throw to a hungry Conservative base, good policy decisions will take guts. But good policy can make our communities safer, benefit the economy and save buckets of money.

So, for your consideration, here are my top five provincial justice suggestions.

Expand legal aid  

Look, we all know you are going to have to cut spending to balance the books. But, as a businessman, you know better than anyone that sometimes you need to spend money to save money. Ontario Legal Aid is underfunded. The poverty line in Ontario is hovering around $20,000. The cutoff for Legal Aid eligibility is just less than $17,000. This means that the poorest in our communities — even when facing a possible jail sentence ­— are denied assistance. This results in unfairness in our courts, but it also results in increased government spending. How, you ask? In our adversarial system, the courts will not let an impoverished and unsophisticated David battle Goliath. So, when legal aid denies funding, the courts order it. Either way, the government pays. But when the courts order funding, it costs Ontario more in lawyers’ fees, court time and other ancillary costs. Spending a little more on legal aid will actually save the province money, increase efficiencies in our courts and ensure fairness for the little guy.

Cancel the Liberals’ new $1-billion jail

The Liberals planned to build a bigger, $1-billion jail in Ottawa. Cancel it. The simple fact is that there are too many people in jail. We incarcerate a disproportionate number of poor, marginalized and racialized individuals. Our jails are not bursting because of an increase in violent crime; actually, violent crime rates are approaching all-time lows. Our jails are bursting because we are locking people up for property offences, administration of justice offences and petty crimes. If you build it, they will fill it. Just look at the Toronto South Detention Centre. Built at a cost of more than $1 billion and opened in 2014, the South was billed as a modern miracle. Today, the South is a crowded “house of horrors.”

It costs almost $80,000 a year to incarcerate one person, so let’s work to find alternatives that can save money.

Offer rehabilitation in our jails

We all have had friends and family that have been touched by addiction and mental health issues. We would never expect our family member’s addiction to magically get better without treatment. The sad fact is that most people in jail have some type of addiction or mental health issue. But our provincial jails don’t offer any meaningful counselling. In short, people usually come out of jail in worse shape than they went in. We should all stop feigning surprise that serious mental health and addiction issues are not spontaneously cured and inmates reoffend when those same people are warehoused and offered no support or treatment. Meaningful rehab programs in our jails would keep our communities safer, reduce recidivism and save money.

Modernize our courts

It is 2018, but our courts operate like it’s 1995. Paper rules the day; fax machines are considered cutting-edge technology and most business must be done in person. If you are looking for inefficiencies in our courtrooms, you won’t need to look far. The province can save money by digitizing dockets and court information. But, more importantly, we can also save time by using technology to eliminate redundant in-person court appearances for routine matters. As a bonus, these newly reclaimed court recourses can be used to move serious criminal charges through the court system more quickly.

Cut out the small stuff

This one will take some guts — but I hear you have those. When it comes to policing and prosecutions, cut out the petty crap so we can focus on the important cases. Our court dockets are overflowing with petty offences and victimless crimes. Not only does the obsession with petty crime interfere with the reintegration of offenders, it is expensive. As a businessman, the thought of spending thousands of dollars to prosecute and jail a homeless man for a $10 theft must turn your stomach. Focusing on the small stuff also squanders limited court resources we could be using to prosecute serious offenders. By refocusing how police and prosecutors use their time, we can save money and make our streets safer.

As you said, a new day has dawned in Ontario. And I have to admit that I am a bit fearful over how that day will turn out. The pull to continue business as usual in the justice system will be overwhelming. It will be easy to blindly support the police. It will be seductive to cut social funding. It will be mouth-watering to continue the partisan politicization of justice issues. Heck, even the Liberals in Ottawa have not had the fortitude to get it right.

But you said you would be different.

And you have my number — so call me any time.

J. Michael Spratt, partner
Abergel Goldstein & Partners
Criminal Defence Counsel

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  • Implicit Malevolent Bias

    Derek Speed
    Michael, love your work, and advocacy on the entire Judiciary system. I'm currently conducting a Psychological Study in the Judiciary System. the only way to conduct a study that doesn't produce bias results, is to be the subject of the study. So, I had myself arrested, and went through the entire Judiciary process. What you mentioned in regards to Carding, from a psychological perspective it's called Implicit Personality Bias. As for your statement "Rational and responsible justice policy can be a hard sell and after decades of crime and punishment being used as red meat to throw to a hungry Conservative base, good policy decisions will take guts". This is something I'm working on, I called it, Implicit Malevolent Bias, or trying to bring awareness to the fact that this needs to change, an idealism that imprisonment, changes behavior, this is centuries old, and archaic at best. If a parent puts their child into solitary confinement, for a month, it's called unlawful confinement, and causes serious psychological problems with the child. However the state feels its perfectly normal, and that's how you change human behavior. It doesn't change human behavior, it psychologically destroys people, and they are left with those psychological scars for the rest of their life, as a child abused would. This is causing the opioid epidemic all over the world, as I've always said, a criminal record, is a life sentence to poverty. I went to Maplehurst after my arrest, I estimate that 70% of the people in there, are in there because they are drug addicts, and drug addicts sell drugs to support their habits. They have no programs for them, just methadone. I've also deducted, that the same percentage of inmates, are one step away from suicide, as a direct result of the "surety" system. The surety system, rips families apart, and pits family members, against family members. Mother against daughter, father against son, and brother against sister. The police, have "Surveillance Squads", that put all people out on bail, under surveillance, and almost every person I met in Maplehurst, was held in custody on a breach of recognizance. They had no sureties, because their families pulled their bail and refused to be surety for them, thus, they are stuck in prison, serving the full sentence for their crimes, without a fair and impartial trial. This prison, is a Gladiator Camp, a considerable amount of people being held, are literally forced to fight. These fights are arranged, usually by the "servers" in any range. Servers, are prisoners that serve the food. The people who are getting into these fights, are usually young guys, trying to make a name for themselves, and are convinced by the servers, that they will pay them to fight another inmate. However, if you get into a fight, both people are removed from the range. So, this is how the servers kill two "birds" with one stone. "Birds" are what the servers call wannabe drug dealers, most of the servers are actually dealing drugs in jail, as that's where the real money is when it comes to dealing drugs, as the price for them go up 1000 fold. One inmate can make 10's of thousands of dollars in a matter of a couple months, selling drugs in jail. And if anybody tries to get in on "their" action, or starts asking to many questions, they call them "Birds", then convince them to fight other inmates with the promise they'll be paid to do it, or brought in on their action of selling drugs. I'm currently working on a thesis I call "Agentic Entanglement Theory". Society as a whole is becoming more and more malevolent, The orwellian nature of society and the ignorance most people in society display, when it comes to opioid addicts and drug dealers, they are in fact one in the same. The more they use the justice system to convict drug dealers and therefore drug addicts, the more people get ensnared in a web that perpetuates poverty. A criminal record, is a life sentence to poverty, chronic poverty leads to depression and mental health issues, chronic depression leads to addiction and dependency issues, which in turn leads to the opioid epidemic we now see. Trying to break this cycle, is almost impossible, it's a vicious circle, that needs to be properly addressed by the Government, and to address it, is to remove the malevolent bias that the justice system the courts and jails are the solution to every problem. I have your email, and I'll send you a copy of my conclusions, as I'll be sending it to the Government as well. the title of the email, with explain the problem, and hopefully retain the attention of the members of Government, who hold a Malevolent Bias, when it comes to human behavior, and correcting it.