Editorial: Province ignores calls for new courts

We’ve had two proposed budgets in the last two weeks but haven’t seen much in terms of investment in infrastructure for the justice system.

At the provincial level, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan delivered a budget last Tuesday that showed a slight decline in the deficit. That’s good news. But in the meantime, he announced the cancellation of construction on a new courthouse in Etobicoke.

Federally, we’re now into an election, of course. But the budget revealed just before the government fell — which Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has vowed to resurrect should the Tories win re-election in May — noted new money for federal Crown prosecutors and judges in Nunavut only.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be added resources for provinces such as Ontario, but officials aren’t saying anything on that for the moment.

Ontario Chief Justice Warren Winkler has long called for new facilities for Toronto’s criminal courts. Not only has that not yet become reality, but the one area in which the province had made moves — the Etobicoke facility — is now off the table.

In the meantime, the government is investing in new jails in both Toronto and Windsor, Ont.

Federally, of course, the government has admitted its new laws to crack down on crime will cost billions, but so far it hasn’t provided a full accounting of the planned expenses, an issue that sparked the speaker’s ruling that held it in contempt of Parliament and helped spark the election in the first place.

But there’s no question that taxpayers will be spending a lot to pay for the new laws, particularly for jails and corrections as inmates receive longer and more severe sentences.

So there’s money for jails but not much on infrastructure for the justice system that puts inmates there in the first place. Of course, Winkler’s repeated calls for new facilities focus in large part on the heavy criminal caseloads the courts are dealing with.

But in the meantime, the government’s serious financial situation hasn’t stopped it from moving ahead with planned expansions of the new full-day kindergarten program.

To be fair, the province has invested in new court facilities in recent years in areas such as Thunder Bay, Ont. Construction there is set to end in 2013. At the same time, there’s no suggestion that things like full-day kindergarten aren’t worthy areas to spend money on.

But with an already backlogged court system in Toronto set to see its caseload expand even more, it’s hard to see the merit in taking money away from the planned Etobicoke facility while expanding the education system into new areas and, of course, building new jails at the same time.

The justice system, it seems, often comes last.
— Glenn Kauth
For more on this issue, see "Budget details new Crowns for Nunavut only."

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