March 27, 2017
Ministry of the Attorney General
The Honourable Yasir Naqvi
Attorney General of Ontario
720 Bay Street, 11th Floor
Toronto, ON M7A 2S9
Dear Minister Naqvi,
Re: New Toronto Courthouse and Youth Criminal Justice Matters
On behalf of the Ontario Bar Association (the “OBA”), I am writing in relation to the new Toronto courthouse (“NTC”) and our members’ continuing support for models of criminal justice that effectively address youth-specific considerations and access to justice challenges. In particular, our members want to ensure that the highly-regarded approach to youth criminal justice currently in place at the 311 Jarvis Street court will be appropriately incorporated into the design and practice of the NTC.
The Youth-Centred Approach
The successes of the model at the 311 Jarvis Street court are due in no small part to the specialized staff and services available for all youth criminal justice matters. Everyone in the courthouse, including judges, justices of the peace, Crown attorneys, clerks and even court officers, have become adept at handling issues specific to youth. One small example is that court officers take a different approach to in-custody non-compliance, which results in de-escalating tensions instead of additional charges. Furthermore, dedicated judge and Crown teams follow youth who come into the courthouse throughout the course of their proceeding. This promotes proficiency with the Youth Criminal Justice Act (“YCJA”), which mandates an entirely separate and unique system for young people, while facilitating a holistic approach to dealing with youth crime and ensuring continuity for their unique issues and vulnerability.
This unique approach is further demonstrated by the hosting of a project specifically designed to address children who are in the care of Children’s Aid Societies and are criminally charged – the “crossover” model at 311 Jarvis Street, in which domestic, child welfare, and criminal matters concerning a young person are heard by the same judge. This model has been extremely wellreceived and illustrates an innovative approach to working with vulnerable young people.
In addition, several specialized resources are available for young people who are before the criminal court, with their own dedicated space in the building. The successful programs include the following:
− The Aboriginal Youth Court has had great success in implementing the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and has reduced the overall incarceration rate for Aboriginal youth.
− The Community Youth Court provides specialized mental health services to young people identified as having mental health issues which contribute to criminal behaviour. Court workers and staff are not only adept at dealing with diagnosed mental health conditions but also in identifying youth who may be experiencing the onset of undiagnosed mental health issues.
− The Toronto Bail Program has a focus on accessing youth shelter services. − Peacebuilders, a private program emphasizing the principles of restorative justice.
By all accounts, the model at the 311 Jarvis Street court works well and effectively implements the fundamental principles of the YCJA, which are to hold young people accountable for their actions, promote the rehabilitation and reintegration of young people before the criminal court, and address the circumstances underlying the offending behaviour by connecting them with community programs and agencies that can meaningfully address their needs. The unique collaboration of youth-focused judges, staff, and on-site support services at 311 Jarvis Street effectively prioritize young peoples’ challenges and needs.
In addition to the legislated imperatives in the YCJA, practical considerations of safety and security also favour separation between adult and youth criminal justice streams, particularly for those young people whose age, needs, and circumstances increase their vulnerability. While the plan for the NTC does contemplate separate cells and floors, both adult and youth members of the public will be using shared security lines and common areas of the building. Our members understand the need to separate youth and adult matters in light of these security concerns, a task the 311 Jarvis Street courthouse accomplishes effectively.
We remain supportive of the government’s commitment to invest in critical justice-related infrastructure, and appreciate the Ministry’s efforts to keep the bar apprised of some of the evolving building zoning and cost considerations regarding the design of the NTC.
We are also aware that Ministry staff consulted with some stakeholders on the issue of youthfocused justice in the context of the NTC and the 311 Jarvis Street court some time ago. While we have been kept apprised of the more technical aspects of the NTC, our members are unclear about the Ministry’s analysis and conclusions regarding the underlying principles informing its overall approach to youth criminal justice at the NTC. We highlight in particular the success of youth-specific judicial officers, Crown attorneys, clerks, and court officers, and our concern that rotating different parties through these roles on a short term basis would have a significant negative impact on youth criminal justice delivery and outcomes.
In addition, though we have received general assurances that youth criminal matters will be appropriately dealt with at the NTC, we are unclear about whether, and to what extent, ancillary support services will be incorporated into the NTC.
These issues are of fundamental importance to our members and to the people they serve. It is important for the Ministry to articulate its vision for ensuring that the successful elements of the youth-centred justice model at the 311 Jarvis Street court, including specialized legal and community resources, will not be lost. We feel there is an urgent need for discussion around planning for youth criminal justice matters at the NTC that reflects the concerns identified above, in light of the stated modernization and access to justice aspirations of the NTC.
We would welcome an opportunity to meet with you or your staff to discuss these issues and look forward to engaging with the Ministry as it moves forward in its plans for the NTC.
Yours very truly,
[original signed by David Sterns]
David Sterns, President Ontario Bar Association
Cc: Mary Birdsell, Chair OBA Child and Youth Law Section
Jody Berkes, Chair OBA Criminal Justice Section