‘Ottawa’ Justice Ministers Focus on Five Areas to Cut Court Delays
Canada’s justice ministers, including Ontario’s Yasir Naqvi, were pressed after day-long talks Friday for concrete action to stop accused killers from walking free because of chronic court delays.
Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said the ministers are focusing on five areas to speed up the criminal process, in light of the so-called Jordan decision from the Supreme Court of Canada, which imposed strict limits — 30 months in higher courts — for concluding cases.
The priorities, she said, are a review of mandatory-minimum sentences, the bail process, the use of preliminary inquiries, the vast number of minor “administration” of justice charges that clog the system and a possible reclassification of some Criminal Code offences to offer quicker settlement options.
Senior bureaucratic work on those files is to be accelerated this summer and the ministers are to meet in September for an update. Some of the improvements can be made provincially but others — like restricting preliminary inquiries — would require law reform by the federal Parliament.
Both the federal minister and her Quebec counterpart, Stéphanie Vallée — on the hot seat after a 2012 murder case was “Jordaned” earlier this month — were asked for their responses to families who lost loved ones in a criminal act, only to see accused persons walk free because of delays.
“Nobody wants this situation,” said Wilson-Raybould. “I think I can speak for all the justice ministers standing here that our hearts go out to the families of victims that have had terrible circumstances inflicted upon them.”
Vallée, meanwhile, said she couldn’t guarantee another serious case would not be tossed out due to violating an accused person’s constitutional right to a trial without unreasonable delay.
Naqvi pointed to a number of steps Ontario is taking on its own, from hiring more prosecutors and court staff, to conducting its own bail review and “triaging” the hundreds of stale criminal cases that are in danger of surpassing the Supreme Court time limits.
Ontario has seen about 300 Charter challenges for time delays since the high court ruled in the Jordan case in July 2016. The most high-profile case in Ottawa was in November with the staying of charges against Adam Picard, 33, an ex-military man, in the slaying of Fouad Nayel, 28, in 2012.
The federal government has already promised to review 72 mandatory minimum penalties in the Criminal Code, many of them introduced by the former Conservative government.
Naqvi, Ontario’s Attorney-General, compared the effects of the Jordan ruling to changing the rules “in the third period” of a hockey game.
“The Supreme Court is telling us in Jordan is that we have to make structural changes. They have pointed fingers at everyone in the system, from the judiciary, to lawyers, both Crown and defence, to governments,” he said as the meeting broke up.
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