Faster, fairer court sys­tem an­nounced

The Niagara Falls Review - - NEWS - AL­LAN BEN­NER ABen­ner@post­media.com Twit­ter: @aben­ner1

With serious crim­i­nal cases like as­sault and mur­der be­ing stayed due to de­lays in the court sys­tem, On­tario’s At­tor­ney Gen­eral Yasir Naqvi was in St. Catharines Mon­day to an­nounce $25-mil­lion in an­nual fund­ing to speed up the process.

“Our crim­i­nal courts are bot­tle­necked, daily dock­ets are jammed and timely trial dates are hard to come by,” he said, speak­ing at the John Howard So­ci­ety of­fice in St. Catharines, Mon­day. “Serious cases are be­ing stayed be­cause they have taken too long – cases like mur­der and as­sault – which can be dev­as­tat­ing to vic­tims, fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties.”

As a re­sult, Naqvi said the prov­ince is ap­point­ing 13 more judges to the On­tario Court of Jus­tice, 32 more as­sis­tant crown at­tor­neys, in­creased fund­ing to le­gal aid On­tario for 16 more duty coun­sels, and 26 more court­room staff mem­bers.

He said one of those new judges will be work­ing in St. Catharines, and the re­cruit­ment process is al­ready well un­der­way.

“We’ve also pro­vided Ni­a­gara with a new as­sis­tant Crown at­tor­ney, who has al­ready be­gun work in this com­mu­nity,” he said, re­fer­ring to Mike Sokol­ski.

The in­vest­ments are de­signed to ad­dress prob­lems iden­ti­fied by the Su­pe­rior Court last sum­mer, when it stayed the con­vic­tion of Bar­rett Richard Jor­dan, af­ter he waited 49 months for a trial be­fore be­ing con­victed of sell­ing co­caine and heroin in Bri­tish Columbia.

Naqvi called that Su­pe­rior Court de­ci­sion a “game-changer.”

“The Supreme Court’s main point (in the Jor­dan case) is that jus­tice de­layed is jus­tice de­nied,” said Naqvi, MPP for Ottawa Cen­tre. “This is some­thing I firmly be­lieve.”

Mean­while, he said On­tario’s “in­ef­fi­cient bail sys­tem” poses an­other chal­lenge for the prov­ince.

“There are too many vul­ner­a­ble low risk in­di­vid­u­als in our cor­rec­tional fa­cil­ity await­ing trial. Many of th­ese peo­ple don’t re­ally need to be there, but lack the right sup­ports and su­per­vi­sion to be safely out of cus­tody on bail,” he said, adding keep­ing them be­hind bars “places a huge fi­nan­cial bur­den on the en­tire jus­tice sec­tor.”

He said it’s not fair for vic­tims, wit­nesses or the ac­cused.

A bail pro­gram, ad­min­is­tered by the John Howard So­ci­ety to pro­vide sup­ports and su­per­vi­sion “for low risk in­di­vid­u­als who come in con­tact with the law” will have more re­sources, to al­low the or­ga­ni­za­tion to as­sist an ad­di­tional 180 peo­ple in the com­mu­nity.

Through ad­di­tional pro­vin­cial fund­ing, he said a new full time sup­port worker, to pro­vide more men­tal health ser­vices in the com­mu­nity, as well as an in­dige­nous sup­port ser­vices worker to pro­vide cul­tur­ally ap­pro­pri­ate bail ser­vices to in­dige­nous peo­ple liv­ing in the area will be added.

The prov­ince will also pro­vide sup­port for ju­rors in need of coun­sel­ing af­ter be­ing in­volved in dif­fi­cult tri­als.

“While serv­ing on a jury can be re­ward­ing it can also be tough,” he said.

It means time away from work and fam­i­lies, to some­times con­sider graphic ev­i­dence while deal­ing with vi­o­lent crimes.

“For some ju­rors, the ex­pe­ri­ences that they had at a trial can have real last­ing trau­matic af­fects that dis­rupt their daily lives,” he said.

Naqvi said for­mer ju­rors in need of coun­sel­ing can now call 1-844587-6766 for sup­port.

The pro­gram en­hance­ments in Ni­a­gara will cost about $340,000 of the to­tal $25-mil­lion an­nual in­vest­ment.

Naqvi said the plan will cre­ate “a faster and fairer” crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem across our prov­ince.

“It’s a plan that has very real ben­e­fits for peo­ple liv­ing right here in St. Catharines and the sur­round­ing Ni­a­gara Re­gion,” he said.

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