The Society and its Legal Aid Ontario Lawyers Local is raising alarm bells over health and safety concerns with the New Toronto Courthouse, as well as the plan to uproot community-based justice services. Society President Scott Travers outlined the issues in his five-page letter to Premier Doug Ford.
Under the province’s current plan, which was developed by the previous Liberal government, the six Ontario Court of Justice courthouses in Toronto would be consolidated into the downtown New Toronto Courthouse, as well as the Etobicoke-based Toronto Region Bail Centre. This would lead to the closure of five courthouses, including Scarborough, North York, Old City Hall, College Park and Jarvis.
In Travers’s February 26 letter, the Society endorses the Ontario Crown Attorneys Association (OCAA) proposal to amalgamate the three downtown courthouses (Old City Hall, College Park and Jarvis) into the New Toronto Courthouse but maintain the courthouses in Scarborough, Etobicoke and North York. Under this plan there would be no need for the Toronto Region Bail Centre as those services would be provided in each courthouse.
The OCAA’s modified courthouse consolidation proposal would reduce overcrowding of the New Toronto Courthouse, ensure Toronto’s justice services can meet the needs of the region’s growing population, and allow for more appropriate work space for Legal Aid Ontario lawyers. The letter also raises the importance of community-based justice services for all justice system participants, including victims, witnesses, sureties, support workers and accused persons.
Among the health and safety issues raised in the letter are:
- Unsafe offices that could render lawyers trapped by abusive clients;
- Interview rooms that are too small to allow for appropriate physical distancing during the pandemic and that do not have panic buttons; and
- Facilities designed without appropriate consideration for the spread of communicable diseases like COVID-19, such as poor ventilation systems, and pinch points such as elevators that will lead to unsafe crowding.
The Society is also seeking the premier’s intervention to ensure appropriate workspaces for LAO lawyers. The present plan contemplates:
- As many as four LAO lawyers sharing a single workstation;
- Little or no secure place for LAO lawyers to store computers, confidential files and books; and
- Just seven dedicated interview rooms for LAO lawyers, none of which are close to the mental health or Gladue/Indigenous Persons courts.
The Society requested a meeting with Premier Ford to discuss these issues but has not yet received a response.