On justice, the Ontario government is spending more to do worse, argues Michael Spratt
Last week the Auditor General of Ontario, Bonnie Lysyk, released her report on justice, the courts, and corrections. It was a damning indictment of a government whose only real justice action has been slashing legal aid funding and introducing the Smarter and Stronger Justice Act, which seems to do little to modernize the court system or meaningful address any of the Auditor General’s concerns.
The people of Ontario should be outraged.
The utter failure of the double Ds — Ford and Downey — on the justice front has resulted in court delays, dangerous and overcrowded jails, wasted money, death, and a continued erosion of trust in our public institutions.
The Dougs said they would be better than the previous Liberal government. It turns out that was not even close to being true.
So, in the interest of word counts — because it would be impossible to go over every single finding of incompetence, mismanagement, and neglect — here are some of the Auditor General’s worst findings.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, approximately 10 per cent of Ontarians struggle with addictions, and there has been a record number of opioid deaths in Ontario: 1,337 last year alone.
But let’s put this in terms that even a cold, cruel, and uncaring fiscally conservative politician can understand.
A 2018 study published by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction estimated that the overall costs and harms of substance use in Ontario was over $14.6 billion in 2014. That is a lot of buck-a-beers: 14,600,000,000, to be exact.
The Auditor found that last year Ontario spent over $490 million on community-based addictions services. But despite this spending, wait times for addiction treatment increased.
And the result of these delays in vital health care was that people abandoned treatment and, in some cases, that led to death.
The bottom line, as confirmed by the Auditor, is that people do not have access to effective and prompt community-based addictions treatment.
To make matters worse, the government has no idea what levels of addictions treatment are needed across the province. This means that treatment is delivered inconsistently, and local funding has not been based on actual need.
But the province did not know this because there were no provincial standards in place for residential and non-residential addictions treatment. There was little data collected after the money left the government coffers.
Ford’s plan to tackle addiction is not working and he had no idea, until last week — assuming he read the report — that he is failing.
And the same disaster is playing out in our jails.
Ontario has never spent more money keeping people in jail, about $820 million dollars a year. It costs Ontario over $300 a day to jail an inmate and the cost of incarceration has increased almost 90% per inmate over the last ten years.
But it seems that no one in power ever asks what we get for all that money.
Last year, one-third of all inmates admitted across the province had serious mental health issues, a 25 per cent increase over the last two decades.
So, with the increased spending on keeping people in jail and the increased instances of mental health problems, Ontario jails must be doing a good job and providing treatment, right?
Not so much.
The Auditor General found that our jails are ill-suited to provide appropriate care to the growing percentage of inmates with mental illness.
The Auditor’s report is consistent with the facts I have seen; there is a complete lack of programs in jail to address mental health and addition problems. And jail guards lack training to handle inmates with these needs.
So, Ontario jails are an over-full powder keg ready to explode.
But Ontario knew nothing of this because the government has not analyzed the reasons for the increased costs, or decided what services are needed.
But, with decreasing crime rates, why are our jails so full?
It turns out that about 85 per cent of jail beds are used by inmates who are on remand. These people are presumed innocent but are waiting for their trial.
So, why are so many people waiting for trial, and why are they in jail?
This one is easy. With cuts to legal aid many of these inmates don’t have a lawyer or are waiting for the bureaucratic legal aid application process to play out.
And cases are taking longer to complete: about 10 per cent longer than they did four years ago. Part of the reason is an underfunded legal aid system. Part of the reason is a lack of judges, which causes courts to sit empty. Part of the reason is that too many people are charged for minor and nuisance offences.
Despite the penny-pinching, Ford is spending eight per cent more on full-time Crown attorneys than his predecessors. But there has been no meaningful increase in the total number of cases completed per year.
The result is that, people sit in overcrowded jails that are better described as Dickensian hellholes, without any treatment, for longer, at a higher cost, for no reason, and while they are presumed innocent.
But the government has no idea. Because they don’t collect data or do any value analysis.
Because — and here is the secret they don’t want you to know — they don’t care.
Ford, Downey, and politicians of their ilk talk a good game on fiscal responsibility and keeping our streets safe. But they do neither well. Never. Ever.
Steven Harper, Jason Kenney, Doug Ford, Donald Trump. They are all the same. While they cut social programs, they spend money on jails, police and prosecutors, and don’t care about the results.
But there is lots of blame to go around. The Auditor General reported that “many of the issues we found during this audit were similar to the concerns we identified in our last audit,” In 2008.
Successive Liberal and Conservative government have failed Ontarians
The only difference is that Doug Ford and his supplicants do not even try.