Bryant says budget includes much for justice

The burden should not be on a youth found guilty of a serious criminal offence to argue that he or she should not receive an adult sentence, the Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled.

It might not appear at first blush that the McGuinty government's third infrastructure-heavy budget has much to offer the justice system, but once the specifics are released, says Attorney General Michael Bryant, Ontarians will see this is very much a justice budget.
The 2006 budget, which contains no new taxes or tax increases, projects an interim deficit of $1.4 billion for 2005-06, down 75 per cent from the $5.5 billion deficit inherited in 2003-04. The government says it remains on track to balance the budget by 2008-09 at the latest.
Bryant told Law Times the specifics of each ministry's budgets don't get filed for  a couple of weeks but says the justice sector plays a large part in the investments in infrastructure.
"I think when the estimates come out, people will see this is a justice budget. We're continuing an aggressive program of courthouse construction and renovation through an increase in the capital budget of $67 million for the upcoming fiscal year. That's on top of the $60 million spent last year on capital projects," he says.
He says that money will provide for: courthouse consolidation and replacement projects in Pembroke, Durham Region, and Waterloo; courthouse construction projects in Quinte, St. Thomas, and Thunder Bay; and continuing courthouse improvements in London, Coburg, Cornwall and Sarnia.
"I think the good news for the justice sector is that in addition to the bill before the house that will see significant improvements to access to justice (bill C-14), we're also putting our money where our mouth is with a $13-million increase in funding to legal aid."
Janet Leiper, chairwoman of Legal Aid Ontario, says just because legal aid funding wasn't mentioned in the budget doesn't mean it's not happening.
 "We are very relieved it's there. We're very happy it's there," she says of the $13-million annual commitment by the attorney general's ministry. "This is a good first step in sustaining legal aid, but by no means is it the end of what we're trying to accomplish. We're pleased that it's there and it means this year we don't have to look at cutting.
"As you know, we've been working very hard to bring our more medium-term challenges to everyone's attention. We have sustainable funding and we can start to get more people served and get more unrepresented people out of the courts.
"This money won't do that but what it will do is give us some stability this year," she says.
Bryant says since the McGuinty government took office it has increased legal aid funding by 10 per cent.
"Had we not brought in these increases, legal aid was going to be in a tough position because the Harris/Eves government had increased the legal aid tariff but downloaded the cost of that on legal aid itself, which would have meant less legal aid services for Ontarians who need it most," he says.
"We've ensured not only that the number of legal aid certificates and the funding to legal aid clinics will be sustainable, we've increased that further, which is obviously going to mean greater access to justice for all Ontarians.
"This is extremely good news for those who care deeply about access to justice," Bryant says.
Heather McGee, president of the Ontario Bar Association, says that while the budget lock-up didn't have any detailed news for justice, the OBA is encouraged by the stated commitment of the attorney general to ensure adequate legal aid funding.
"We look forward to receiving a detailed breakdown of the global numbers contained in the budget. The OBA will continue to work co-operatively with the attorney general to ensure the provision of the necessary resources for Ontario's justice system."

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