While the overall performance of Ontario’s criminal justice system is to be lauded, it has serious and ongoing challenges, write Munk Senior Fellow Benjamin Perrin and Richard Audas in the Province.
By Benjamin Perrin and Richard Audus, March 5, 2018
Ontario was the most improved province in our second annual criminal justice report card, just released by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. The province, which has been engaged in a series of ongoing reforms in recent years, saw its ranking improve dramatically to fourth place (from seventh), with an overall grade increase to a B (from a C+), due to relative improvements in public safety as well as fairness and access to justice.
While the overall performance of Ontario’s criminal justice system is to be lauded, it has serious and ongoing challenges with respect to poor rates for solving violent crime, disproportionate rates of incarceration of Indigenous Peoples, massive percentages of charges stayed or withdrawn, and significant numbers of accused persons on remand.
Using Statistics Canada data and quantitative statistical methods, we again assessed each province and territory’s criminal justice system based on five major objectives: public safety, support for victims, costs and resources, fairness and access to justice, and efficiency.
In terms of its major strengths, Ontario has the second lowest violent crime rate in the country – and that rate has declined significantly since 2012. The province has a relatively higher weighted non-violent crime clearance rate than other provinces (which is a measure of how good a job the police are relatively doing at solving non-violent crime). Ontario also has relatively low rates of accused persons being unlawfully at large and failing to comply with court orders.
While sums are still quite modest, victims in the province receive one of the highest proportions of restitution orders in Canada. On the cost and resources measure, the cost of public safety per capita in the province is lower than average. With respect to fairness and access to justice, Ontario has the second-highest criminal legal aid expenditures per 1,000 crimes among the provinces.
Ontarians have a mixed view of their criminal justice system. While they rank the police well for enforcing the law, ensuring safety, satisfaction with safety, and responding promptly, they consider the police as relatively poorer on supplying information, being approachable, and being fair. While Ontarians have a relatively high level of confidence in the province’s justice system and courts, their confidence in the police is below average when compared to other provinces.
Indeed, there are some notable areas for improvement in Ontario. The province has among the lowest weighted violent crime clearance rates in Canada. It also has one of the highest rates of breaches of probation in Canada.
With respect to costs, Ontario has a relatively high average daily cost per inmate, and relatively more police officers per capita than elsewhere in Canada. In terms of fairness and access to justice, the Ontario justice system has one of the most disproportionately high levels of Indigenous incarceration of anywhere in Canada.
A major ongoing cause for concern is the efficiency of Ontario’s criminal justice system. The province has the highest percentage of criminal charges stayed or withdrawn of any province or territory (43.4 per cent in 2016), in comparison with a mere 7.4 per cent of charges stayed or withdrawn in neighbouring Quebec during the same period – a reflection of different approaches to laying criminal charges that has implications for fairness, efficiency, and cost.
Ontario also has the second-highest number of accused persons on remand (detained while awaiting trial) per 1,000 crimes of any jurisdiction in the country; these are people who are presumed innocent. Finally, the province has among the fewest number of Criminal Code incidents per police officer of any province.
The government of Ontario has made a series of announcements to begin to address delays and inefficiencies in its criminal justice system, which are to be credited. However, deeper reforms are needed to address ongoing and systemic issues that have plagued the province’s criminal justice system for decades.
Benjamin Perrin is a law professor at the University of British Columbia and a Munk Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. Dr. Richard Audas is a health statistics and economics professor at Memorial University.