The new Toronto megacourthouse is not for youth

Posted on in Child & Family Delivery System

TheStar.com – Opinion/Contributors – Children as young as 12 will be required to appear at the same courthouse as adults, which often also causes young people to see themselves as criminals.
May 2, 2018.   By EVA E. MARSZEWSKI

The question of whether or not Toronto should have separate courthouses for young people and for adults was properly resolved six decades ago. Separate courts were established to specifically deal with legal matters involving children. The decision was based upon the best evidence about the appropriate treatment of adolescents whose needs were significantly different from those of adults.

Opened in 1957, the Ontario Court of Justice at 311 Jarvis St. brings together family courts, youth courts, and youth support services all under one roof. It was designed to be “more clinic, than court,” fostering a child-centred approach to youth justice that aims to address the underlying factors that lead young people into conflict with the law.

Unfortunately, the Attorney General of Ontario intends to dismantle this progressive approach to youth justice by merging both youth and adult courts in one adult, criminal “megacourthouse.” Such a move would be regressive, ill-conceived and raises safety concerns.

The Ontario Court of Justice at 311 Jarvis St. reflects the goals of Canada’s youth justice legislation, which is specifically designed to address young people’s heightened vulnerability and potential for rehabilitation.

Everyone at 311 Jarvis — from judges to Crown attorneys and other court officials — has expertise and experience in dealing with children, supporting them through the court process and helping to ensure that they never have to repeat the experience.

Combining youth and adults at the new courthouse means all youth cases will be moved out of Toronto’s specialized youth court and integrated in the new mega-court, for reasons of “efficiency.” Children as young as 12 will be required to appear at the same courthouse as adults, which often also causes young people to see themselves as criminals.

Most of the young people who appear in the court are charged with minor, low-level offences for what is often normal adolescent behaviour. And many of them are already some of the most vulnerable, marginalized young people in Toronto — living in over-policed and under-resourced communities.

Parents go to great lengths to protect their children and many fear predators and gang recruitment. The new megacourthouse will clearly put children and youth at risk as it is expected to handle more than 40,000 adult criminal cases a year. All will need to enter through the one secure entrance and children will be forced to line up with accused adults. If for no other reason, safety concerns alone require that youth cases be dealt with separately.

Evidence shows that the most effective way to support young people in conflict with the law, reduce recidivism, and ensure public safety is through community-based programs.

Courts and legal services alone can neither address the underlying issues that lead young people into conflict with the law, nor support their rehabilitation. However, once in the system, the best way to treat adolescents appropriately is in separate, specialized youth courts.

The 311 Jarvis St. model may not be fiscally practical in most jurisdictions, but it would be a mistake to dismantle it in Toronto. Financial pressures should not trump rehabilitation.

The Honourable R. Roy McMurtry is a former attorney general and chief justice of Ontario. He is the co-author of the Review of the Roots of Youth Violence. Eva E. Marszewski is the founder of Peacebuilders, a non-profit organization in Toronto that provides restorative justice and court-diversion programs to young people in conflict with the law.

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2018/05/02/the-new-toronto-megacourthouse-is-not-for-youth.html

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This entry was posted on Thursday, May 3rd, 2018 at 11:39 am and is filed under Child & Family Delivery System. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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