Not only have the Liberals failed to repeal Harper’s ill-conceived minimum penalties, as they promised to do, but they have come up with new ways to increase justice system costs. New sexual assault laws and an expansion of the right to counsel for complainants have resulted in hours of additional court time and thousands of dollars in extra costs for most sexual assault cases. And it is provincial legal aid systems that are left to pick up the tab.
And there is the cost of federal inaction on other necessary justice reforms such as decriminalizing drug use and decoupling mental disorders, poverty and addiction from the Criminal Code, which would go a long way to reducing the burden on provincial legal aid systems.
So why the inaction? It would take political guts for the federal government to reverse the damage Harper did to the justice system and it would take real political courage to legislate the reforms our justice system so badly needs.
Maybe this explains why Lametti’s mandate letter made no mention of substantive justice reform or legal aid funding. The lack of any legal aid direction is particularly odd since Trudeau did tell Lametti to establish an independent Criminal Cases Review Commission to examine potential wrongful convictions.
A strong legal aid system is the first line of defence against wrongful convictions. But because of Ford’s cuts, more and more accused before the courts are self-represented in Ontario. They face their trials against skilled and well-funded prosecutors, alone.