Ontario Taking “Extraordinary Measures” to Reduce Pressure on Court System

Thunder Bay District Court
Thunder Bay District Court

TORONTO – Ontario’s Courts are very busy through the past 18 months. COVID-19 has moved many cases from being held in court houses to being Zoom Calls either video or by phone.

“Our government is taking extraordinary measures to prevent people accused of murder, sexual assault and other serious crimes from going free without a trial due to the exceptional pressure on the justice system caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Attorney General Doug Downey. “This new investment will support the work of prosecutors and police to hold offenders accountable and stand up for victims of crime as they seek justice.”

In Thunder Bay for example the number of cases being remanded forward has grown.

One local lawyer comments that the crown is having a “fire sale” on older cases and offering “sweetheart deals” for guilty pleas.

The Ontario government is investing more than $72 million over two years to prioritize public safety and ensure offenders are held accountable by addressing the unprecedented backlog of criminal cases that have accumulated in the justice system as a result of the pandemic.

As part of the province’s criminal case backlog reduction strategy, this investment will support the hiring of additional Crown prosecutors to ensure serious cases aren’t being stayed for delay and recruiting new staff to strengthen court services and victim/witness services.

Ontario is also increasing trial capacity in the justice system until the number of outstanding cases returns to pre-pandemic levels by reducing the number of cases entering the criminal justice system, seeking faster resolutions for cases already in the system and updating processes to shorten the time it takes to move a case to trial.

Measures to support this work will include:

  • an updated COVID-19 Recovery Directive for prosecutors to help address the growing backlog of criminal cases and focus resources where they are needed most – the prosecution of serious cases such as murder, sexual assault & gun-related offences
  • expanding the ability of Crowns to assess bail positions quicker across Ontario
  • ensuring victims and vulnerable individuals and communities have access to support and services by increasing capacity in Ontario’s Victim/Witness Assistance Program

In addition to these measures, Ontario will also be establishing an experienced team of prosecutors to conduct an intensive case review and resolution blitz of targeted offences from region to region.

“These significant new measures build on actions we have taken throughout the pandemic to keep Ontarians safe and build a more connected and resilient criminal justice system, including a recently updated COVID-19 Recovery Directive for prosecutors,” said Downey. “We have listened to prosecutors and partners throughout the justice system to help establish a strategy that will attack the criminal case backlog from every angle to get results.”

Improving the digital tools and information accessible to Ontario’s police and prosecutors is critical to bringing offenders to justice and keeping communities safe in the pandemic and beyond.

The criminal case backlog reduction strategy will build on recent provincial investments in a Digital Evidence Management program to support criminal investigations and prosecutions that must evolve to respond to increasingly advanced criminal activities. The strategy’s comprehensive measures will also build on the expansion of the eIntake digital platform that has helped to speed up the process to file criminal charges.

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