‘Attempted murder is not a priority’: Victims of dismissed cases speak out in the middle of Lower Ont. justice financing

Cait Alexander does not consider herself a victim of domestic violence, but rather a victim of the Canadian justice system.

The criminal case of her ex-boyfriend, accused of trying to kill her in 2021, was rescheduled twice before it was finally dismissed. She was granted a restraining order and was allowed to go her way.

“I was told that my assassination attempt is not a priority,” Alexander told reporters at a news conference in Queen’s Park on Thursday. “This means that an extremely violent abuser is released without a single consequence.”

Standing at a podium, Alexander said she is not an anomaly and that she has spoken to “countless women” who have experienced gender-based violence and whose case was dismissed or resolved with a peace bond.

“These governments are not tough on crime,” he said. “The system needs immediate reform. “Canadians are not safe when laws only affect the victim.”

Advocates argue that staffing shortages and a lack of funding for Ontario’s justice sector are causing cases involving violent crimes to be dismissed.

For victims, there is little recourse after time has passed in a criminal case.

Emily Ager’s sexual assault case was dismissed in November 2023, after she had already testified in court.

“I was raped 789 days ago,” Ager said Thursday.

“Jordan’s decision set a precedent that allowed a maximum of 540 days for this rapist to be heard and his trial ruled. It has now been 147 days since the charges were stayed due to his right to a speedy trial.”

Jordan’s cap is set under Canada’s Criminal Code, which ensures that anyone charged with a crime has the right to a trial within a reasonable time.

That period is set at 18 months for a provincial trial.

While advocates do not dispute the fact that cases must be heard in a timely manner, so that those accused of crimes are not in jail unnecessarily, they do argue that there should be enough resources to complete trials within that limit. for everyone involved. including victims and witnesses.

“The men who committed these horrible crimes are now walking free,” Ager said. “Both Cait and I were sentenced to life in prison.”

New Democratic Party MP and Attorney General critic Kristyn Wong-Tam said the backlog in Ontario’s justice system is “staggering” and she was disappointed that no new funding had been allocated for the justice sector. in the 2024 budget.

“The government’s tough-on-crime rhetoric means absolutely nothing if courts are understaffed and cases are dismissed,” they said.

“Right now in Ontario, courtrooms are empty while lives are in limbo, staff are overwhelmed and justice is once again denied. “The Prime Minister is deeply damaging our justice system.”

Without adequate staff, existing courtrooms “are in the dark,” Wong Tam said, and cases that were supposed to be heard in them are delayed.

For example, the Ontario Court of Justice’s newest facility in Toronto has seen multiple cases dismissed due to staffing issues. The facility took over proceedings from six others in Toronto, North York and Scarborough. The union representing public court employees warned that staff are overworked and underpaid.

Attorney General Doug Downey said he does not “have the luxury” of addressing individual cases, but insists the government is doing “everything we can.”

“We have employed over 340 people in the justice system, Crown prosecutors, victim witness assistants, court employees, court staff,” he said during question period at Queen’s Park on Thursday.

“It’s incredible the amount of resources this government is putting into the system to address the lack of progress that occurred under the Liberal government before us.”

According to Ontario’s recently released budget, funding for the justice sector will decrease from $6.1 billion to $5.9 billion in 2024.

In the coming years, that figure is expected to decline further to about $5.6 billion.

The province has not indicated it would inject more cash into the justice sector, instead saying it is committing $13.5 million over three years to “enhance initiatives that support women, children, youth and other people who are at higher risk of violence or exploitation. “

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