This column is an opinion by Michael Spratt, a companion on the Ottawa prison regulation agency Abergel Goldstein & Partners, former vice-president of the Ottawa Defence Counsel Affiliation, former Felony Legal professionals’ Affiliation Board member, and co-host of the authorized and political podcast The Docket. For extra details about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.
It seems that Ontario’s Lawyer Normal, Doug Downey, is a fast learner. The outdated saying is not true, an outdated canine can study new tips.
After a rocky summer time the place Downey took political warmth for slashing legal aid funding and publicly musing about messing with Ontario’s judicial appointment process so he may extra simply decide judges who mirror his values, Downey has lastly discovered to cease being so clear.
It is a play proper out of the Doug Ford handbook — do not take heed to the half-truths he says, as an alternative take a detailed take a look at what he really does.
You see, Downey was all smiles this week when he launched his signature justice laws, the Smarter and Stronger Justice Act, billing it as a repair for Ontario’s complicated and outdated justice system. He mentioned it could enhance authorized help companies and improve entry to justice.
Downey additionally introduced that following this yr’s $133 million authorized help cuts, the federal government has determined not to pursue additional funding reductions.
All of it appeared like a breath of recent air. However the satan is within the particulars.
It is true that Ontario’s courtroom system is in determined want of modernization. In a damning report, Ontario Auditor Normal Bonnie Lysyk described a justice system that’s outdated and inefficient.
She discovered that Ontario’s jails have by no means been extra crowded with individuals ready for trials, but our courtrooms are solely used a median of two.eight hours per day. Delays plague the system, and regardless of spending extra money on Crown Attorneys, instances are taking about 10 per cent longer to finish than they did 4 years in the past.
And in contrast to different jurisdictions, our courtroom system is caught within the 1970s. In 2018-19, virtually 2.5 million paperwork have been filed in Ontario’s courts – greater than 96 per cent of them on paper.
The utter failure of the double Ds – Doug Ford and Doug Downey – on the justice entrance has resulted in courtroom delays, wasted cash, and decreased entry to justice.
So, again to Downey’s new laws.
Opposite to Downey’s claims, it’s devoid of any significant measures to maneuver Ontario’s justice system into the 21st Century. Beneath Downey’s rule, the fax machine remains to be king of the courtroom.
However much more duplicitously, regardless of strolling again $30 million in deliberate cuts to Authorized Support Ontario (LAO), Downey’s laws is a Computer virus for his final objective – a merciless gutting of entry to justice for the impoverished.
You see, the Smarter and Stronger Justice Act basically adjustments the aim of the authorized help system.
Downey’s new regulation actually replaces LAO’s present objective, offering high-quality authorized help companies to low-income people, with a brand new objective of making certain worth for cash.
The brand new laws additionally permits the federal government to extra simply stack LAO’s board of administrators with hand-picked appointments. And if we’ve discovered one factor concerning the Ford authorities, it is that it loves unqualified patronage appointments.
Most insidiously, buried deep in Downey’s laws is the downloading of thousands and thousands of of prices, presently borne by the federal government, straight onto LAO’s shoulders.
There are a variety of circumstances proper now that enable a courtroom to order the federal government to pay authorized prices to victims, to youths, to amicus curiae, or to these denied authorized help however in want of a lawyer to make sure truthful trial. And these appointments are occurring extra regularly as LAO tightens its belt and denies help to increasingly more individuals.
The Ministry of the Lawyer Normal used to pay these prices when it was ordered to take action by a courtroom. However not after Downey’s new invoice.
Very similar to Trump wanting Mexico to pay for his ill-conceived border wall, Downey’s laws says that, “Regardless of any order of a courtroom requiring that the price of offering companies … be borne by the Lawyer Normal of Ontario or the Crown in proper of Ontario, the price of offering the companies shall be borne by [LAO].”
The impression of this constitutionally doubtful immunity clause would be the downloading of thousands and thousands of in extra prices, most likely greater than the price of the deserted authorized help funding cuts, onto the backs of the very group tasked with helping Ontario’s poor and marginalized populations.
And as Authorized Support Ontario pays extra of those shifted prices, it can have much less cash to assist impoverished accused … which is able to result in extra court-ordered prices and even much less cash to assist the poor. It is a harmful suggestions loop that can crush Ontario’s authorized help system.
Downey says his new invoice will modernize the courts, nevertheless it will not.
He says his new invoice will improve entry to justice, nevertheless it will not.
He says his new invoice will strengthen authorized help, nevertheless it will not.
In reality, Downey has really achieved the other. He did it quietly and covertly. And he proved that Doug Ford’s canine can study new tips.