President Warren (Smokey) Thomas sent the following letter to Premier Doug Ford today, asking him to intervene and scrap plans to close Ontario Courts of Justice in Scarborough, North York and Etobicoke and move them to a mega courthouse downtown. These three community courthouses are anchors in their communities and keep justice accessible in the neighbourhoods where people live.
February 24, 2022
Hon. Doug Ford
Premier of Ontario
Legislative Building, Queen’s Park
I’m writing to you today on behalf of our members who work in the Ontario Courts of Justice in Toronto. We are strongly opposed to the Ministry’s plan to close the Scarborough, North York, and Etobicoke courthouses and move them to the new Toronto courthouse that is being built downtown.
We have tried, along with other unions and associations representing crown attorneys and other lawyers, to bring our concerns to the attention of the Attorney General, but to little avail. So I am turning to you, Premier Ford, in hopes that you will hear our concerns and our proposed solution.
Closing those three Ontario Courts of Justice that serve the residents of Scarborough, North York, and Etobicoke will be disastrous for those local communities and the users of those courts. It will reduce access to justice for people who don’t live downtown. Witnesses, victims, and accused persons will have to travel much further and spend more money to come downtown to court – which will likely result in more fail-to-appears and adjournments. The technological features in the new downtown courthouse cannot replace the local courts for people who are indigent or without access to technology. Also, it is our members’ experience that every court proceeding takes much longer when it is done remotely, decreasing efficiency.
It will increase costs overall for the criminal justice system in Toronto. Police will all have to come downtown instead of having court locations closer to their precincts. Court workers and lawyers will have to travel downtown, increasing their costs for travel and parking. Toronto courthouses are already incredibly understaffed, and the prospect of the three courthouses in the outer areas of Toronto moving downtown has many of our current members in Toronto applying elsewhere for work and leaving in order to avoid adding hours to their commute every day. High turnover increases staffing costs.
Closing the courthouses will have a devastating impact on local businesses, who depend on the daily traffic of lawyers, judges, court workers, witnesses, and the general public who drop by their businesses on their way to and from court.
There are also public safety concerns with the new location. If there are future waves of COVID-19 or other illnesses, the criminal justice system in Toronto will be that much more vulnerable to complete shutdown. All it would take is a single outbreak within the New Toronto Courthouse. Also, Toronto Police noted in an internal report that there is an increased risk of gun violence if rival gang members from different areas of the city are forced to attend one centralized court location at the same time.
There is a solution: The three Ontario Courts of Justice that are currently located downtown can be moved into the new building as planned. The Scarborough, North York and Etobicoke courts can stay where they are, and the Unified Family Court can be moved into the New Toronto Courthouse instead. This government has committed to building a Unified Family Court, and the new Toronto Courthouse is the perfect location for it.
I know that public safety is important to you, as it is to our members. I’m asking you on their behalf to intervene and stop this harmful plan by the Ministry of the Attorney General to close the Ontario Courts of Justice in Etobicoke, Scarborough and North York. As an Etobicoke MPP, you know how important anchors like these courts are to their communities, and how important it is to keep services like this accessible in people’s neighbourhoods instead of moving them downtown.
I invite you to get in touch with me to discuss this further. Thanks for your time and consideration.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union