In support of prisoners and prison justice activism in Canada
Holding Remand Prisoners Longer Leads to Overcrowded Prisons in Ontario

12 days in jail average to get a bail hearing
Statistics show time in Ontario has tripled
People awaiting trial outnumber those convicted

TRACEY TYLER LEGAL AFFAIRS REPORTER, The Toronto Star, November 10, 2003

People charged with crimes and presumed innocent are being forced to spend 12 days on average in overcrowded, filthy and faraway jails before getting a bail hearing, an Ontario Superior Court judge says.

Mr. Justice Casey Hill came to a Toronto conference over the weekend armed with statistics showing, among other things, that the amount of time an accused person in Ontario waits for a bail hearing has tripled in recent years. The waiting period in the province has remained constant "for a long time at four days," he said. "It has gone up, up, up to where, in Ontario, that timeline on average is now 12 days.

Hill, who obtained the numbers Friday from the deputy minister of correctional services, said it is unclear whether the situation is due to congested bail courts, problems obtaining legal aid or delays in lining up sureties, among other factors. But the backlog is clearly adding to the sheer volume of people packed into provincial detention centres awaiting trial — in violation, many judges say, of their constitutional rights. The numbers are so high — 52,179 at last count, representing 62.7 per cent of total admissions — that more people considered legally innocent are in Ontario jails awaiting trial than are people convicted and serving sentences in provincial facilities.

A study published last year by Toronto criminologists Gail Kellough and Scot Wortley found accused people in pre-trial detention were 2.5 times more likely to plead guilty to get out of jail faster, even if they had a legitimate defence.

In recent months, other judges have spoken out harshly in court rulings and speeches about the growing number of people in pre-trial custody, although none has gone as far as Hill in digging up numbers that bring the problem into sharper focus. A former crown attorney, Hill, who presides in Brampton, presented his findings during a panel discussion on Saturday at the annual conference of the Criminal Lawyers' Association. In an interview later, Hill called for a "multi-partner study," involving police, defence lawyers, prosecutors and others in the justice system, to get at the root causes of the problem.

Toronto defence lawyer Lou Strezos, a director of the Criminal Lawyers' Association, echoed Hill's call for an inquiry. "The tragic thing in all of this is really that the presumption of innocence at the pre-trial stage is becoming a myth," he said. "We pay lip service to it, but it's not playing out in the numbers we see."

Hill also noted that fewer inmates are being released on parole from Ontario jails. In 2000-2001, 28 per cent were released on parole after one-third of their sentence, compared to 59 per cent seven years earlier, Hill found. Ontario's rate is lower than the National Parole Board's and seven other provinces that keep statistics, he said.

In a speech last month in Kingston, Mr. Justice Marc Rosenberg of the Ontario Court of Appeal said the attorney-general has a duty to look into problems created by having so many people in pre-trial custody, adding it is jeopardizing the integrity of the justice system. Strezos said recently appointed Attorney-General Michael Bryant "has to answer Justice Rosenberg's call."