A judge with the Superior Court of Justice has excoriated the provincial government over the state of conditions at the Brampton Courthouse, west of Toronto.
Justice Peter Daley, a regional senior judge with the central west region, says there are a host of problems that have resulted due to a lack of hearing rooms and office space at the courthouse, even after a memorandum of understanding was signed in 2008 with the government of the day.
“[D]ue to the inaction and, willful blindness on the part of the provincial government to address these space challenges, we are now faced with very real and unacceptable delays in the hearing of all matters in Brampton,” said Daley this morning at the Brampton courthouse, according to a transcript of remarks provided by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
“Not only is the situation entirely frustrating for all who seek a timely resolution of their cases, but it results in an immense disservice to those who live and work in Peel Region,” Daley added.
Daley had sent a letter last week to representatives at the Law Society of Ontario, the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association, the Criminal Lawyers’ Association and The Advocates' Society regarding the “dire facilities problem” at the Brampton courthouse.
The courthouse opened in 2000, he said, but it remains “grossly undersized to accommodate the people of Peel region, which includes Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon.”
“Regrettably, the Ontario government has failed and refused to live up to its responsibilities, despite being implored to do so countless times over many years by the Superior Court of Justice,” said Daley.
“As the Supreme Court of Canada has said in R v. Askov and R v. Morin, the lack of institutional resources cannot be an excuse used by the Crown to deny an accused’s right to a timely trial.”
In his remarks, Daley noted that Ontario Attorney General Caroline Mulroney was invited to attend his comments, but she declined to come or send a representative in her place.
“In spite of the fact that the province of Ontario remains in breach of both its constitutional and statutory duties to provide suitable courthouse facilities for the citizens of Ontario in Brampton and elsewhere, and upon inviting the office of the Attorney General to send counsel on her behalf to receive these remarks, I was advised by her office that it was declining the invitation to send a legal representative for this occasion,” Daley said.
However, he was unequivocal about who he sees as responsible for the improvements.
“The Ontario government — past and present — is either willfully blind to the erosion of trust caused by its failure to take timely steps to address the facilities crisis in Brampton, or it believes that spending on this courthouse will not result in more votes,” he said in the transcript. “Either way, the government’s inaction is unconscionable and inconsistent with its obligations to the public in Peel region.”
Daniel Brown, a criminal defence lawyer and a spokesman for the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, says the problems with the Brampton courthouse are leading to greater issues with access to justice. He says the move by Daley to share the remarks is “unprecedented.”
“What Justice Daley was very concerned about is the under-funding and under-resourcing of the Superior Court of Justice in the Peel Region because it’s leading to significant problems . . .” says Brown.
He says there isn’t enough court space at the Brampton courthouse, even with a “multi-million-dollar renovation” that occurred.
“They’ve only decided to fill two of the six floors with courtrooms. The other four floors of space are just empty shells and will remain that way. There’s no plans to fill that space at this time,” says Brown.
“The challenge is that the . . . demands on the justice system require more courtroom space and more spaces for judges so that they can draft judgments and preside over the cases, and they simply don’t have the resources they need.”
The paucity of space has meant that defendants are being sent to other jurisdictions such as Orangeville, Milton and Kitchener, says Brown.
“These jurisdictions don’t have a lot of infrastructure. It’s a challenge to get to those jurisdictions from the Peel Region and it’s very challenging not just to get clients to their court appearances but also for them to afford lawyers to go the added distance and also to secure witnesses who will come to court and testify in these cases,” he says.
“It also leads to significant delays in the justice system when these cases have to be sent out of jurisdiction, [with] significant costs to the justice system as well. The solution is an easy one: It’s simply to fill the space that’s available in the Brampton courthouse.”
Brown says the CLA supports Daley in his call for more resources for the courthouse.
“What we can expect will happen is that cases will be in jeopardy of being thrown out because of delays, or wrongful convictions will ensue because witnesses weren’t able to get to these distant jurisdictions to provide their evidence in court, or that the Crown’s case will fall apart because they aren’t able to secure witnesses who were unable to travel these significant distances,” says Brown.
“At some point, there’s going to be some significant impact on the justice system and, in turn, it will impact the public’s confidence in the justice system, which everyone should be concerned about.”
Ronald Bohm, senior litigation counsel at SBMB Law and president of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association, said in an email statement that the “OTLA is a strong proponent of access to justice for Ontarians.”
“Ensuring that our courts are provided with sufficient personnel and facilities to perform their important role in our free and democratic society is an integral and essential component of real access to justice,” he said.
Daley also received the backing of Chief Justice Heather Forster Smith of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
“Chief Justice Heather Smith supports and agrees with Daley’s comments,” said Norine Nathanson, senior counsel in the Office of the Chief Justice for the Superior Court of Justice in an email statement.
“The chief justice wants to underscore that Daley has deftly handled and has been exceptionally proactive in working to address the considerable challenges of scheduling and facilities in the Brampton and Central West Region. His dedication has been remarkable, as has the dedication of all of the Superior Court of Justice Central West judges in their efforts to ensure that matters can be heard on their merits.”
Jess Trepanier, spokeswoman for Mulroney, said in an email statement late Monday that the ministry “will continue to review and respond to the facility needs of the Brampton courthouse as we move forward.”
“We are working every day to clean up the financial mess the Liberals have left Ontario in, and that includes finding ways to deliver efficient and effective services that meet the needs of Ontarians,” she said, in the statement.
Editor's note: Comments from Ministry of the Attorney General spokesperson added Nov. 20, 2018.