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TLA: concerns over folding youth court into Toronto 'mega-courthouse'

Toronto Lawyers Association - Melanie Manchee
Toronto Lawyers Association

Minors accused of crimes are set to lose out when Toronto’s youth courts are absorbed into a planned downtown “mega-courthouse,” Toronto Lawyers Association (TLA) president Melanie Manchee tells AdvocateDaily.com. Law Times

With a tentative completion date of 2021, the new $1-billion courthouse near University Avenue and Queen Street West is due to consolidate most of the city’s criminal courts, including the dedicated youth court housed at 311 Jarvis St.     

But Manchee says that dealing with everyone at a site designed for adults in the criminal justice system does those under 18 years old a disservice.

“Youths are differently situated than adult offenders and accused, and they need to be treated differently. That becomes more difficult when they are placed in the same facility,” she says.

“It’s virtually impossible to achieve an appropriate level of separation at the new courthouse. Even if they’re on a different floor, they come in through the same entrances and wait at the same elevators, so any segregation is more illusory than reality.

“The TLA is concerned that this combination has been done without consulting experts in the field,” she adds.

On Nov. 28, Peacebuilders Canada, with the support of TLA and other partners, will host a discussion on the future of the youth courts; community members, justice professionals, and families will have their say about the move, and their hopes to convince the province’s Ministry of the Attorney General to change its plans.

The meeting will take place from 6 – 8 p.m. at the Artscape Sandbox, 301 Adelaide St. W. in Toronto. Registration is free at peacebuilders.eventbrite.ca.

“We have this unique opportunity right now, given that the new courthouse is being built, to examine a means of potentially having youths separated out across the board,” she says. “At a minimum, that is a conversation we would like to have.”

Currently, the treatment of Toronto youths accused of crimes varies depending on where they appear, Manchee says.

“There is a youth court at 311 Jarvis St. that deals exclusively with minors where they can get unique services in an environment without the obvious dangers of having adult offenders around. But at other sites, they are combined with adults,” she says.

Rather than folding the Jarvis Street site into the new consolidated courthouse, she says the province should be looking at expanding its use.

“It has a ton of potential. It is government-owned and sits right next to a former detention facility that is currently empty. In my view, that could be used to create a world-leading facility for youth justice,” Manchee says.

According to the CBC, the government expects to save as much as $700 million over 30 years in lease fees by replacing sites currently dotted throughout the city, including those 1000 Finch Ave. West, 444 Yonge St., and Old City Hall on Queen St. West.

The request for proposals stage for the project to design and build on the new site recently closed and the provincial government is currently considering bids. An announcement on the successful proposal is expected early in 2018.   

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