Pembroke -- “Justice delayed is justice denied whether it is the accused or the state,” Admaston/Bromley Mayor Michael Donohue commented at Renfrew County council recently learning there is a backlog of over seven years in the provincial offences court. “There is an unreasonableness in the expectation of a 90 month, which is seven and a half years, delay.”
The Finance Committee noted in their report they are “extremely concerned with the massive backlog of (provincial offences) court matters, due to the COVID-19 shutdown. As a result of the increasing backlog, and at the current rate, the County of Renfrew is facing a minimum of 90 months to clear this backlog and we are not alone.”
The report went on to say all East Region courts are facing the same challenges.
“The Ontario Court of Justice for the County of Renfrew has been short two local Justices of the Peace for more than two years and overall the East Region is short five Justices of the Peace,” the report noted. “Even though our courts are currently remote audio courts, we are only being provided with a Justice of the Peace for the Pembroke court dates not our scheduled court dates for our satellite courts of Renfrew, Killaloe and Deep River due to the shortage of Justices of the Peace and the COVID-19 closure of our satellite courts.”
The county and the Provincial Offences Office (POA) would like to see these satellite court dates allocated back to the Pembroke location to assist with this backlog.
Mayor Donohue said he was quite concerned with this backlog. He said right now it is over seven years.
“Five years beyond what likely our system would deem as an appropriate level,” he said.
“There is a challenge for us as we might be perceived to be a barely lawful society,” he said. “That is unacceptable.
“It is quite distressing it has come to this,” he said, adding it is not only because of COVID.
Warden Debbie Robinson agreed it was unacceptable and said she was looking forward to comments.
The letter to the province said there is a 44 per cent reduction in court capacity in 2021. With more serious matters dealt with first, it means there is an inability to schedule some matters.
“The cumulative impact of having all POA trial courtrooms close for one year due to COVID-19 and lack of judicial approval to schedule matters into trial courtrooms has contributed to a historically high backlog of approximately over 2,500 Part 1 and Part III matters,” a summary report stated. “Enforcement activity continues and volumes are nearing pre-COVID levels which include several eMCPA and other COVID-19 related legislation which remain unadjudicated. We have estimated that by the end of 2021 we will have an estimated 7,538 matters required to be scheduled and time to trial nearing 90 months.”
Municipal partners do not have the ability to resolve the issue of judicial shortages, the report noted.
In her letter to His Worship Herb Kreling, regional Senior Justice of the Peace, Warden Robinson noted the technology is in place to support remote audio/video resumption of all pre-COVID courtroom assignments.
“The one POA courtroom is under construction to retrofit it to meet the health and safety requirements and have the technology installed to support hybrid (in person and virtual) court proceedings when approval is received from the Recovery Secretariat,” she stated.
Some matters are being dealt with in pre-trial and withdrawal strategies. However, there are many charges withdrawn because there is insufficient trial court time available.
“The public perception is that court will not be able to provide a timely trial and therefore applying for a trial is a tangible means of avoiding penalty,” she wrote.
In conclusion, Warden Robinson asked for the reopening of trial courts for virtual proceedings and additional judicial resources.
“We look forward to working together towards the full resumption of POA Courts in the County of Renfrew,” she wrote to Justice Kreling.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader