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Ontario’s court backlog growing and courtrooms sit for an average 2.8 hours a day: auditor

The Ontario Court of Appeal is seen in Toronto on Monday, April 8, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel.
The Ontario Court of Appeal is seen in Toronto on Monday, April 8, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel. Colin Perkel / The Canadian Press

TORONTO – Ontario’s auditor general says a backlog of criminal cases in the court system is growing, and courtrooms only operate for an average of 2.8 hours a day.

Bonnie Lysyk’s annual report looked at various aspects of the justice system, including criminal and family courts, jails and detention centres, as well as coroners’ operations.

She found that most of the highest-billing coroners, who are also physicians, performed death investigations on their own patients last year.

The report also says that Office of the Chief Coroner doesn’t have procedures for inventories of bodies, leading to some being found in the wrong cooler.

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In the courts, Lysyk found that the number of criminal cases awaiting resolution grew by 27 per cent to about 114,000 cases, while the average number of days needed to deal with a case grew by nine per cent.

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The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2016 that cases must be dealt with in certain time frames or be tossed, and Lysyk says 191 cases in Ontario have been stayed in the last three years because of that.

But getting detailed information proved difficult, Lysyk said, as the chief justices of the provincial and Superior courts, as well as staff at the Ministry of the Attorney General refused to give the auditor’s investigators certain information.

“We respect the confidentiality under which the courts must operate and the independence of the judiciary, but the Auditor General Act does give us the statutory authority to review government spending,” Lysyk said.

“In addition, we routinely examine confidential data from a broad range of government operations, and we have never violated any confidentiality.”

The delays are evident in the province’s adult correctional facilities too, with 71 per cent of inmates being on remand, which means they haven’t been convicted or sentenced, Lysyk found. That percentage is up from 60 per cent in 2004-2005.

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As well, a growing number of inmates have a mental health alert on their file, and segregation is being used to confine some of those people due to a lack of specialized care beds, the auditor found.

In the family courts, about one-quarter of the 5,249 child protection cases had been pending for more than 18 months – some for more than three years.

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Courtrooms across the province are in operation for an average of just 2.8 hours a day, the auditor found, well below the ministry’s optimal average of 4.5 hours.

And the court system remains heavily paper-based, Lysyk said, with paper making up more than 96 per cent of the documents filed in Ontario’s court system in 2018-19.