LILLEY: Trudeau’s failure to appoint judges could let criminals off the hook

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We can expect more rapists, child molesters, drug dealers and murderers to go free unless something happens to our court system soon.

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There is a shortage of judges and while that may sound like a far-off problem for someone in government to solve, the real-world implication is that criminals will go free without getting to trial.

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Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice is short 19 judges, according to the federal government’s website. Just as worrying, 73 of the 278 total judges in the criminal system are supernumary, meaning they are semi-retired and work on a part-time basis.

With 26% of all judges being part time, plus the missing 19 judges, Ontario is in the worst shape of any province.

All of this leads to a backlog of cases that could and should be cleared away if the Justin Trudeau Liberals were doing their job of appointing judges. Their decision not to means that people charged with serious crimes are let off the hook.

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On Wednesday, the Toronto Sun broke the story of a young girl in Toronto who came forward to describe years of physical, mental and sexual abuse at the hands of her father. After an investigation by police and social workers, charges were laid in early 2021.

After going through pre-trial hearings and having court dates scheduled, but then cancelled due to the lack of judges, the girl and her family face the prospect of the case being dropped without going to trial.

A Supreme Court ruling in 2016 established strict guidelines to ensure that the charter guaranteed the right to a trial within a reasonable timeframe. In lesser cases, a trial had to be held within 18 months and within 30 months for more serious cases.

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The 30-month mark is now closing in on the horrendous allegations Alexandra and her mother Lisa (not their real names) have described and there is still no trial date that will meet the Supreme Court deadline. The problem isn’t the Supreme Court, it’s our government.

The court set this rule in 2016, but here we are in 2023 and cases are still falling through the cracks due to a lack of resources. Yes, there are problems due to a pandemic backlog and there are issues with lower-level court workers not wanting to return to in-person hearings post-pandemic, but at its heart this is about successive governments — most recently the Trudeau government — not taking criminal justice seriously.

“New Democrats have raised concerns with the government that their tardiness in appointing judges is causing delays which risk very serious criminal cases being dismissed,” NDP MP Randall Garrison said.

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Conservative justice critic Rob Moore said the failure of the Trudeau government to fill these vacancies means there are more dangerous people on our streets.

“Victims and their families receive no justice when dangerous criminals who have committed horrible crimes are let off the hook because Trudeau is failing to hire enough judges for our court system,” Moore said.

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For their part, the Liberal government said in a statement that they have appointed 100 new judges. But that doesn’t help fill the gap in Ontario, where between vacancies and part-timers the number of judges in court doesn’t match what is needed.

“(Justice) Minister (David) Lametti stands with victims of sexual assault and is working to make sure we have a justice system that supports and protects them. He is aware of concerns regarding judicial vacancies in Ontario and is doing everything he can to fill them expeditiously,” press secretary Diana Ebadi said Wednesday.

Expeditiously means with speed and efficiency, but that’s not how positions are being filled, especially not in Ontario. The Trudeau government needs to do better on this front or admit they aren’t worried about sexual offenders, drug dealers and murderers going free before they go to trial.

And they need to be able to look young girls like Alexandra in the eye and explain why her case didn’t deserve the attention of the court and a judge.

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