Ontario 'failing' to staff new Toronto courthouse as sex assault case latest to be tossed over delays: NDP
Published Thursday, November 16, 2023 11:28AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, November 16, 2023 1:38PM EST
Ontario's official opposition party says the Ford government has "failed" survivors of crime amid reports of numerous cases being thrown out at Toronto’s newest courthouse due to staffing issues.
New Democratic Party MPP for Toronto Centre, Kristyn Wong-Tam, spoke to legislators at Queen’s Park Wednesday, highlighting an ongoing staffing crisis at the Ontario Court of Justice (OCJ) Toronto facility and urging against a decrease in funding to the provincial justice system, overseen by the Ministry of the Attorney General.
“This government is failing to adequately staff Toronto’s newest Ontario Court of Justice facility,” Wong-Tam said.
“Despite this government’s claim that they are fixing the courts, the Ministry of the Attorney General saw a base funding cut in the fall economic statement,” she continued.
The courthouse, located on 10 Armory Street, opened in February 2023 and took over criminal proceedings from six OCJ facilities in Toronto, North York, and Scarborough – a decision the union representing many of its workers said it warned would cause hardships for both staff and those within the system.
Since opening, the court has experienced staffing issues, delays, and courtroom closures that have pushed the system to the brink of operations. Last week, a Fergus, Ont. woman’s sex assault case was thrown out by Ontario Court of Justice Judge Brock Jones, after delays contravened the defendant’s right to trial in a reasonable timeframe. Jones attributed the stay to a staffing crunch at the courthouse, calling the situation “shameful.”
In September, a man charged with the sexual assault of a minor also had his charges stayed.
“How is the Premier justifying funding cuts to the court system when he is already failing survivors?” Wong-Tam asked the legislature.
When reached for comment, Wong-Tam's office said the remarks were based on a projected decline in spending on the court system that was revealed in the Ontario government's recent fall economic statement.
But a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General, Andrew Kennedy, suggested in a statement issued to CTV News Toronto Thursday that Wong-Tam's assertions were not completely accurate, and that a reduction in finances allotted to the court system this year coincides with the termination of temporary COVID-19 relief funding, provided to alleviate court backlogs caused by the pandemic.
“While [the ministry's] overall spending did decrease, this was due to temporary program funding ending. These are not cuts,” Kennedy said.
The ministry said it will continue to recruit and onboard new staff to support Toronto’s OCJ facility and “to ensure victims have access to justice and that offenders are held accountable.”
Emily, whose surname CTV News has omitted due to safety concerns, was the complainaint in the latest sexual assault case thrown out at Toronto’s Ontario Court of Justice. On Nov. 7, a sexual assault charge laid by Toronto police against the man she reported raped her in January 2022 was stayed and the case against him thrown out due to delays in proceedings.
“It took so much to even do that first step of giving my statement to the police and [going to] the hospital," Emily told CTV News Toronto in an interview from her home in Fergus.
"Then, a year and a half later, I decided to go back to Toronto to do this trial, face this man, and tell my story. Now it’s just over.”
The trial was scheduled to begin on July 5, 2023. A lack of staff and in turn, available courtrooms saw the matter delayed until July 7, however.
When the matter did commence, it was the first time in nearly a-year-and-a-half that Emily was to face the man she’d alleged raped her.
“I could see him, out of the corner of my eye, staring at me,” she recalled. “It was really hard.”
Despite her nerves, Emily made the decision to testify and submit to cross-examination by prosecutors that day.
“The defence really tried to shake me,” she said.
After less than a day of proceedings, the matter was once again adjourned – this time, to Nov. 7.
Emily would never return to the courtroom for the matter. Instead, she received a video call from the Crown last week informing her that the charge had been stayed, and the case thrown out just days before it was set to recommence.
In the call, Emily said a Crown attorney told her that they believed she was sexually assaulted, but that the charge had been stayed, and that they suggested she move on with her life and try to put the event behind her.
“But what about my rights? Why are the rights of this man held with more importance?”