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Faster, fairer court system announced

By Allan Benner, The Standard

Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi was in St. Catharines Monday to announce $25 million in annual funding to speed up the process.

Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi was in St. Catharines Monday to announce $25 million in annual funding to speed up the process.

 With serious criminal cases being stayed due to delays in the court system, Ontario 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 bottle-necked, daily dockets are jammed and timely trial dates are hard to come by,” he said, speaking at the John Howard Society office. “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 that the recruitment process is 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, Naqvi 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 counselling 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 counselling can now call 1-844-587-6766 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.

ABenner@postmedia.com