Judge blasts province’s ‘unconscionable’ inaction on cramped Brampton courthouse, leading to ‘unacceptable’ hearing delays


A senior judge blasted the provincial government Monday for failing to provide sufficient courtroom space in Brampton, which is leading to “very real and unacceptable delays” in the hearing of cases at one of the busiest courthouses in the country.

“The Ontario government — past and present — is either wilfully 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,” Regional Senior Justice Peter Daley of the Superior Court of Justice said in court.

Regional Senior Justice Peter Daley of the Superior Court of Justice, speaking in court about the lack of space at the Brampton courthouse on Monday.
Regional Senior Justice Peter Daley of the Superior Court of Justice, speaking in court about the lack of space at the Brampton courthouse on Monday.  (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star)

“Either way, the government’s inaction is unconscionable and inconsistent with its obligations to the public in Peel region.”

The Superior Court hears all civil cases, some family matters and the most serious criminal cases including murder. The lack of space in Brampton — located in one of the fastest-growing regions of the country — has meant that cases have had to be transferred to other municipalities including Milton, Kitchener and Toronto, leading to added delay and extra costs for litigants, Daley said.

“Transferring Brampton cases to other centres has a very real impact on the people who live and work in Peel region,” Daley said. “We have received letters of complaints from lawyers, members of the public and families of litigants who have been unable to attend these other court locations outside of Peel region by public transit, creating real access to justice obstacles.”

As of Nov. 1, the earliest date the court can offer to hear most motions in civil and family matters is eight months down the road, and 16 months for trials lasting more than five days, Daley said. For criminal matters, whether a short or long trial, the earliest date is 10 months from now.

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Courts have come under heightened scrutiny to deal with criminal cases in a timely fashion since the 2016 Supreme Court of Canada decision in R v. Jordan set strict timelines to complete such cases before they must be tossed for violating an accused person’s constitutional right to a trial in a reasonable time.

In Superior Court, the time limit is 30 months between a person’s arrest and the anticipated conclusion of their trial. Daley said the court has had to reprioritize cases that would otherwise be at risk of being tossed.

Rarely have judges spoken so forcefully in public on challenges facing their court, but as Daley pointed out, the Superior Court had “engaged all the appropriate channels within the Ministry of the Attorney General to seek timely solutions to the pressing space demands,” but with little success.

(Daley also noted he had invited Attorney General Caroline Mulroney to send a representative to hear his remarks in court Monday, but the invitation was declined.)

In an unusual move, the judge even allowed cameras inside the courtroom to record his remarks prior to the start of the day’s proceedings, “in view of the broad public interest at stake in these issues.” He made clear he was only addressing problems facing the Superior Court and not the Ontario Court of Justice, the lower level of court that hears most criminal cases and also occupies space at the Brampton courthouse.

Construction at the Brampton courthouse on Monday.
Construction at the Brampton courthouse on Monday.  (Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star)

Compounding the spacing issue is the fact that a new six-floor addition under construction adjacent to the existing courthouse will be mostly empty once it’s completed. Daley said government would only be “fitting out” the basement and first two floors, leaving the remaining four floors a “vacant shell.”

Those first few floors were expected to be completed by now, but will only open around July 2019, Daley said. Even then, he said, no courtrooms will be completed, but only a few “retiring rooms” that could be temporarily used as judges’ chambers.

The judge urged government to approve funding for filling out the remaining four floors as soon as possible.

“It has become clearly evident to all … that the idea of only partially completing the courthouse addition is folly at its highest,” Daley said. “Not only does it not make any economic or practical sense to delay the completion of the remaining floors — this is simply further evidence of the provincial government’s continuing breach of its statutory and constitutional duty to provide appropriate courthouse facilities to this court.”

Daley’s comments were welcomed by legal organizations, who agreed the lack of space is causing serious access to justice issues.

“The long-standing practice of sending cases out of jurisdiction has created a number of obstacles for clients who must bear the costs associated with additional travel expenses and legal fees,” said Daniel Brown, a vice-president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association. “This practice has also made it more challenging for both the Crown and defence to ensure important witnesses attend trial.”

Jacques Gallant is a Toronto-based reporter covering legal affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @JacquesGallant


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Eagle feather now an option at Lethbridge Courthouse when taking oath or affirmation – Lethbridge


It was a day of firsts at the Lethbridge Courthouse. Members of the First Nations community gathered to bring a part of their culture to the judicial process in southern Alberta.

“Some people may see it as something small, but it’s actually a big thing,” said Tony Delaney with the Kainai Peacemaking Program. “To be able to smudge here in the courthouse, it’s never happened and for people to witness that and participate in that as well.”

The smudge was part of a ceremony, blessing an eagle feather gifted by Travis Plaited Hair to both the Court of Queen’s Bench and the Provincial Court of Alberta in Lethbridge.

“It will replace a bible, a Koran, the old testament, whatever someone may use as an instrument to bind their testimony to tell the truth,” said Justice Jim Langston with the Court of Queen’s Bench.

There are other areas in Canada that have an eagle feather in their courthouses, but this is a first for Alberta’s south region.

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“It’s long overdue and there is much that we can learn from their culture and their practices, and it was an opportunity among many others, that we are trying to begin where their culture can be brought in our courthouse, our justice system in a way that is respectful,” added assistant chief judge with the Provincial Court of Alberta.

There are seven courthouses in the south region and provincial court judge Derek Redman added that he hopes the feather in Lethbridge is the first of many in courthouses in the area.

“My dream would be to have a feather like that in every courthouse. This one, we may have to move around but this ceremony was a ceremony to introduce the eagle feather into the southern region, and so once we have acquired enough blessed feathers, my hope is that we would have it in every courthouse.”

Organizers called the feather another step towards truth and reconciliation in southern Alberta.

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© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Closure of Pro Bono Ontario courthouse help centres will make justice even more difficult, lawyers say


The pending closures of courthouse-based centres that help unrepresented individuals navigate civil and small claims court will make access to justice even more difficult in Ontario, lawyers say.

The three centres, run by registered charity Pro Bono Ontario, are located at two courthouses in Toronto and one in Ottawa where lawyers volunteer their time to assist people with everything from filling out court forms to providing advice on the potential success of a claim.

The Toronto courthouse at 47 Sheppard Ave. E., one of two locations in Toronto to house a Pro Bono Ontario help centre.
The Toronto courthouse at 47 Sheppard Ave. E., one of two locations in Toronto to house a Pro Bono Ontario help centre.  (Chris So / Toronto Star)

Pro Bono Ontario has said the centres will be closing in December due to lack of funding to cover costs such as paying rent and administrative staff. The charity has been able to keep them open so far by using its core funding, provided by the Law Foundation of Ontario, which is in turn primarily funded by the interest on lawyers’ mixed-trust accounts.

As demand has grown exponentially for the centres’ services — Pro Bono says they serve nearly 18,000 people a year — the charity says so has its need for financial assistance. It recently asked the provincial government for $500,000 to keep the centres open for the next year.

The request was denied, as it was under the previous Liberal government.

“We’ve had usually generous funding from the Law Foundation and they’ve helped us with some bridge financing as we got into this tight spot, but the Law Foundation has a very broad constituency and they can’t be expected to support law help centres because there are other people who need the money as well,” said David Scott, chair emeritus of Pro Bono Ontario.

“Our position is that it’s the responsibility of the provincial government (to provide funding), more specifically the attorney general, because the attorney general is responsible for access to justice in the province and for the moment, the attorney general does not agree.”

A ministry spokesperson said Attorney General Caroline Mulroney recognizes the importance of pro bono services and wants to preserve access to justice, adding the government provides Pro Bono Ontario rent-free space worth $580,000 at courthouses in Toronto and Ottawa and is prepared to continue with that arrangement.

(Pro Bono said it does pay rent at one courthouse in Toronto and contributes to rent in Ottawa.)

“The attorney general and officials from the ministry have met with Pro Bono Ontario three times since July of this year to encourage Pro Bono Ontario to work with its private sector partners, Legal Aid Ontario, the Law Foundation of Ontario, and the Law Society of Ontario, to find solutions to its long-term funding issues,” said ministry spokesman Philip Klassen.

Those who have volunteered in the centres say there has never been a shortage of lawyers willing to do the work, and say the centres help to make the courts more efficient, as a self-represented person trying to navigate the system on their own can inevitably cause delays.

“This isn’t just affecting the individuals who will no longer have access to the services, it really threatens the efficiency of the system as a whole,” said Toronto lawyer Lindsay Scott, who has volunteered at the centre at 393 University Ave., which houses the city’s civil courts.

“Of course there’s a way to fix this, and it’s an obvious answer. It’s just a question as to whether the political will exists.”

An external study by a U.S. consulting firm found that Pro Bono Ontario’s services overall to self-represented litigants provided a $10 return for every dollar invested. Among other things, the study identified $2.29 million in savings to the Ontario government — which funds and operates the courts — which were achieved by Pro Bono helping to keep claims of “doubtful merit” out of the system.

“To have this disappear would be a significant detriment to justice in Ontario,” said lawyer Erin Pleet, who has also volunteered in a centre. “These are people who couldn’t afford lawyers’ rates and shouldn’t be a burden to the system just because they can’t afford a lawyer.”

Jacques Gallant is a Toronto-based reporter covering legal affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @JacquesGallant


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