Courthouses across the GTA, Canada’s most populous region, are already overwhelmed. Under particular strain are the suburbs of Toronto, which have exploded in population over the past few decades, with few corresponding increases in services.
One particular courthouse is in Brampton, where the Ministry of the Attorney General has announced they will build a 3-story expansion. The expansion will not be completed until December 2017, and that time both the bar and the bench appear to be alarmed.
Justice Van Melle, former Regional Senior Justice for Ontario’s Central West court region, took the unusual step of writing a letter to the Criminal Lawyers’ Association. The letter was addressed to the assistant deputy attorney general Lynne Wagner, and indicated that the delays in these expansions mean that in the short-term many pending and ongoing cases will be compromised. She recommended the initial plan from 2012 which was intended to provide more immediate relief through the use of “modular” court rooms.
Although we often refer to restructuring legal services and increasing funding for legal aid as means for enhancing access to justice, if we cannot properly fund the existing system we put unnecessary pressures our justice system. The addition of mandatory minimums and other federal measures have added to these pressures. We are seeing some use of telecourts to service remote and rural communities.
But increasing funding for the courts themselves, and the addition of more judges, still needs to be an ongoing priority to reflect our changing and growing demographics. Without properly maintaining our existing system, it becomes virtually impossible to envision what the future possibilities may be.