OBA said no principled reason to treat criminal defence counsel differently
The Ontario Bar Association has called on the provincial government to include criminal defence counsel in the list of individuals eligible for emergency childcare services amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Under Ontario Regulation 82/20, essential workers can avail of the province’s emergency childcare services to work when an area is declared a shutdown zone due to the pandemic. These essential workers include court and justice workers across the province, such as Crown attorneys, court clerks, court reporters, court office staff, and courthouse custodial services.
In a letter addressed to Minister of Education Stephen Lecce, the OBA requested that the government expand the regulation regarding access to emergency childcare services to include criminal defence counsel since they are “just as integral to the proper functioning of the justice system as are other stakeholders.”
“Under s. 47(g) of the Ontario Regulation 82/20, ‘professional and social services that support the legal and justice system’ are essential services that may remain open in a shutdown zone,” the OBA wrote. “This includes criminal defence lawyers, but the regulation fails to make emergency childcare services available to them.”
The OBA stated there is no principled reason to treat criminal defence counsel differently. They also navigate the justice system for clients and represent clients on various matters, including resolutions and trials.
“The criminal justice system cannot function without defence counsel,” the OBA wrote. “When they are not present, the justice system grinds to a halt creating further backlog.”
The OBA said that if criminal defence lawyers cannot access emergency childcare services, they must ask for adjournments, often opposed by the Crown.
“The unavailability of defense counsel will delay justice in an already burdened court system and impact access to justice for those who have matters before the courts,” the OBA wrote.