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New TLA president calls for separate downtown Toronto youth court

Mixing youths and adults accused of crimes at a new downtown courthouse could expose minors to exploitation, Toronto Lawyers Association (TLA) president Dirk Derstine tells AdvocateDaily.com. Read The Lawyer's Daily

Derstine, a criminal lawyer who recently assumed the presidency of the TLA, says one of his priorities in the role concerns the “mega-courthouse” planned for downtown Toronto. With a tentative completion date of 2021, the $1-billion courthouse slated for Armoury Street is due to consolidate most of the city’s criminal courts, including the dedicated youth court, currently housed at 311 Jarvis St.    

But Derstine says a site designed for adults is no place for children as young as 12 to appear when accused of crimes.

“The TLA believes that youths should not be treated as if they were adults, and in fact, the Criminal Code mandates that they are not,” he says.

The current plans indicate that the youth court will occupy the entire fifth floor of the building, but Derstine says that level of isolation is inadequate.

“Without dedicated entrances and exits to the building for youths, there is a chance they will be exploited or influenced by adults, which is already the source for many of the problems they face in court,” he says.  

“It’s simply a bad idea to have youths in the same building as adult offenders because it’s conducive to the victimization of youngsters by anyone who wants to recruit or prey on them.”  

Derstine says space will be tight at the planned courthouse, and housing the youth court at a separate downtown site may help free up additional room.

Under current proposals, the provincial government intends to solve the limited space issue by retaining its existing facility at 2201 Finch Ave. W., to be used as a bail court. However, Derstine says that idea has not gone down well with Toronto lawyers, due to the building’s location in the far northwest of the city.   

“We believe that the bail centre should be located inside the new courthouse on Armoury Street,” he says. “Although the building at 2201 Finch is the most modern in the city, it is not very accessible, and it would be impractical to have a bail court in a place so far from where most of the lawyers in Toronto are going to be.”

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 at 1000 Finch Ave. West, 444 Yonge St., and Old City Hall on Queen St. West.

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