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CLA Recognizes Ontario’s Justice System Participants and Calls on the Attorney General for More to be Done to Reduce the Number of Persons in Custody

The COVID-19 pandemic is a new and unprecedented challenge for our country and for our courts. Leaders in these times must make tough decisions where there is no right answer or proven recipe for success.

This past week, the CLA mobilized our 1500 members, many of whom risked their health and safety to assist at courthouses across the province. These volunteers worked tirelessly alongside crown lawyers, Judges, Justices of the Peace, duty counsel, clerks, security and other justice participants in order to reduce the number of people incarcerated in our provincial jails.

The CLA would like to single out all the Judges and Justices of the Peace of the Ontario Court of Justice for their stellar effort to reduce the number of people in jail, while protecting the safety of the public. Their performance has been in line with the best tradition of the Canadian judiciary.

In total, more than 1000 people were released from jail over the last six days. We continue to be concerned for the health and well-being of the 7300 incarcerated men and women who are still behind bars in provincial jails across the province as well as the corrections staff within these institutions. We will work as hard as humanly possible to reduce the number in the coming weeks. It bears repeating that there is no more vulnerable population than the inmates of a closed institution.

The justice system has done all it can in the circumstances. We call upon the Attorney General for Ontario, the Honourable Doug Downey, to ensure that immediate infrastructure and funding exists to continue our efforts. Also, we call upon the Attorney General to Instruct senior prosecutors to carefully review every single case with a person in custody, whether or not that case is set for trial, to evaluate the public interest in proceeding and to re-evaluate the possibility of agreeing to some form of release from custody on bail; particularly because a high percentage of people in custody are detained on charges for non-violent offences, such as breach of bail, fail to appear and breach of probation. Allocate funding to permit remote bails in every Ontario courthouse. Make every justice building in Ontario a safe place to enter and work. If the Attorney General does not make the courthouses safe, there can be no access to justice.

The CLA will continue to offer volunteer support to ensure bails and pleas can proceed, however the Ontario Court of Justice must now implement province-wide systems to allow us to continue our work remotely so we can safely work together while we battle COVID-19.

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