Annual Report 2011-12

MINISTRY OVERVIEW

The Ministry of the Attorney General is responsible for providing a fair and accessible justice system that reflects the needs of diverse communities across the province.

The ministry employs approximately 8,000 staff who deliver services in:

  • criminal, civil, family and small claims courts;
  • the ministry's agencies, boards and commissions;
  • the prosecution of crime;
  • services to victims;
  • support of vulnerable Ontarians;
  • legal services to government.

The ministry is guided by three key strategies that support the government priority of justice and the commitment to "keep families safe and secure". They are:

  • Deliver an Effective Justice System;
  • Protect the Interests of Victims and Vulnerable People;
  • Provide an Efficient Court System.

Deliver an Effective Justice System

In 2011-12 the ministry continued to build on Ontario's strong criminal justice system with the appointment of 10 judges to the Ontario Court of Justice and 14 Justices of the Peace.

Throughout 2011-12 the ministry and its justice partners continued their efforts to reduce criminal court delay through the Justice on Target (JOT) strategy, which is addressing the long-standing issue using:

  • system-wide goals;
  • evidence-based local decision making;
  • locally lead initiatives informed by current data.

The strategy set aggressive targets to reduce the provincial average number of days and appearances needed to complete a criminal case by 30 percent.

In 1992, it took an average of 4.3 court appearances to bring a charge to completion. By 2007, this figure had more than doubled to 9.2 appearances. As a result of JOT it has dropped to 8.6 (down 7%).

In 2007 it took an average of 172 days to complete a criminal charge, factoring out the impact of bench warrant days. As a result of JOT that figure has been reduced to 169 (down 1.3%).

As a result of JOT, two out of every three court sites have reduced the average number of appearances. Sixteen courts have achieved double-digit reductions.

More than half the court sites in the province have reduced the average number of days to disposition. Twenty courts have achieved double-digit reductions.

More than 500,000 court appearances have been eliminated. Ontario courts now provide more information sooner so that people are better prepared for court appearances.

Every criminal court site (57) of the Ontario Court of Justice has achieved greater efficiencies, improved service for the public and other benefits.

JOT uses a collaborative approach that involves all justice participants, reviewing local data to inform decisions and measure progress toward more effective criminal court processes.

Throughout 2011-12 the ministry, local court leaders and justice participants continued efforts to find better ways of moving cases through the criminal justice system more effectively.

Examples of practical new approaches expanded or implemented locally in criminal courts in 2011-12 include:

  • providing more information to accused persons sooner so that decisions can be made earlier in the process;
  • establishing a streamlined intake process including a timeline or standard number of appearances, after which most cases should be either set down for trial or otherwise resolved;
  • using technology to improve service and processes. Local court leaders are finding ways to make maximum use of existing video conferencing equipment for video pleas or private, secure consultations between Defence Counsel and in-custody accused to reduce the amount of time spent travelling between correctional institutions and courts.

As a result of these and other measures, straightforward cases are being resolved sooner and Ontario's justice resources are being shifted to priorities such as more serious crime and increased protection of the public.

JOT ensures existing resources are used effectively, while the fairness and integrity of the criminal justice system is protected and the independence of its participants is maintained.

In the February 15, 2012 report from the Commission on the Reform of Ontario's Public Services, Justice on Target was cited as an example of a provincial program that uses an evidence-based approach to achieve better outcomes. The report recommends the approach be expanded beyond the criminal justice system.

The Justice on Target strategy was also nominated for the 2012 United Nations Public Service Awards in the category of “Improving the delivery of public services.”

In 2011-12, the government invested $45 million in Legal Aid Ontario (LAO). This funding is part of the government's investment of $150 million in additional funding to LAO over four years that was announced in fall 2009.

In 2011-12, the ministry continued to work closely with LAO to ensure on-site access to legal aid. In 2008, only eight court locations had an on-site legal aid application site. Today, 56 court locations have a legal aid application site, representing more than 90 percent of criminal court matters in Ontario.

In December 2011, LAO's telephone-based Client Service Centre answered its 500,000th call. The successful implementation of LAO's convenient telephone-based services has surpassed all expectations with over 25,000 calls per month. This toll-free service offers comprehensive legal aid assistance including summary legal advice over the phone in 120 languages, including 18 aboriginal languages and dialects, through simultaneous interpreting services.

In 2011, LAO launched online information programs for family and criminal law on LAO's website, accessible to anyone with internet access in both English and French.

Protect the Interests of Victims and Vulnerable People

The Victim/Witness Assistance Program (V/WAP) provides information, assistance and support to victims and witnesses of crime to increase their understanding of, and participation in, the criminal court process.

Services are provided on a priority basis to the most vulnerable victims and witnesses of violent crimes including: domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and sexual assault, hate crimes and to families of homicide or traffic fatality victims. Services begin once police have laid a charge and continue until disposition of the court case.

A measure that demonstrates the performance of this program is its service delivery standard, which requires that V/WAP make efforts to contact clients referred to the program within three business days.  In 2011, the standard was achieved over 95 percent of the time.

The Victim Quick Response Program provides immediate assistance to victims of violent crime. Through this program, eligible victims who have no other financial means are able to access short-term counselling, financial support for crime scene cleanup, emergency expenses or funeral expenses for family members who are victims of homicide.

Measures that demonstrate the performance of this program involve the time it takes to approve requests for services. The established service standard requires that 90 percent of requests for emergency and funeral expenses are approved within three business days of receipt of the request, and that 90 percent of requests for short-term counselling are approved within five business days.

In 2011, those standards were met with over 95 percent of counselling requests approved within five business days and nearly 91 percent of funeral and emergency requests approved within three business days.

The ministry recently enhanced the online Victim Services Directory found on the ministry's website.  The directory is a valuable resource for victims and service providers as it allows clients to search for specific support services in their communities.  The enhancements have resulted in more precise searches for services located in over 2,000 communities across Ontario.

In March 2011, the ministry announced the new Family Court Support Worker Program to help victims of domestic violence involved in the family court process. This program provides service to victims of domestic violence, primarily women, during the difficult process of separation or divorce, when they are at greater risk of further violence. The new program became available across Ontario in December 2011.

The ministry announced a number of new initiatives in April 2011 as part of National Victims of Crime Awareness Week, including:

  • a Vulnerable Victims and Family Fund, which helps victims of crime and their families get the additional support they need to participate more fully in the criminal court process
  • the Financial Assistance for Families of Homicide Victims Program, which provides eligible parents and spouses of victims of homicides that occurred from January 1, 2006 to December 31, 2011 with up to $10,000 per homicide.

During the year, the ministry also established a network of 45 agencies to provide critical support services to male survivors of sexual abuse. These agencies began delivering services in summer 2011. The services provided in this first-of-its kind initiative in Canada include, individual, group, telephone and e-counselling and peer support. Survivors also have access to a new 24-hour, toll-free hotline for crisis and referral services. As of December 31, 2011, over 400 clients across the province had accessed these specialized services. These agencies have also provided training, public education and other professional development services to ensure victims receive the supports they need.

Also in April, eleven individuals and three organizations received the Attorney General's Victim Services Award of Distinction. The awards recognize victims of crime whose courage and dedication have raised awareness of victims' issues in Ontario, and the exceptional achievements of dedicated volunteers, professionals and organizations in the field of victim services.

Programs for Vulnerable People

The ministry supports a wide array of services for vulnerable people through community, agency and court-based initiatives.  This includes decision making provided by the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee (OPGT) for mentally incapable people with no one else to act on their behalf. 

Over the 2011-12 fiscal year, the OPGT acted as guardian for approximately 12,600 mentally incapable people. In addition, the OPGT received approximately 4,500 treatment referrals and performed 261 screening and field investigations into allegations of harm, self-neglect or abuse.

Over the past four years, results show that OPGT responded to:

  • 99 percent of requests for medical treatment decisions for mentally incapable adults within 24 hours;
  • 99 percent of allegations of abuse of mentally incapable adults within 24 hours.

The ministry is committed to protecting Ontario's children and offers a range of services provided by the Office of the Children's Lawyer.  The Office helps over 15,000 children at any given time with the assistance of approximately 80 staff and 750 fee-for-service legal and clinical agents across the province.

Over the past four years, the Office of the Children's Lawyer:

  • helped to resolve matters in more that 80 percent of cases;
  • resolved over 86 percent of property rights cases without a contested hearing or trial.

The ministry also supports children through the Supervised Access Program, through which non-profit organizations across Ontario provide safe settings for visits and exchanges between a child and non-custodial parents or other persons, where there are concerns about safety.

For the past five years, more than 99 percent of Supervised Access Centre visits and exchanges were completed without incident. Each year, the Program provides over 60,000 supervised visits and exchanges.

In May 2011, the Attorney General signed the first inter-provincial agreement to help in confiscating profits generated from unlawful activity outside of Ontario. Money and property seized will be used to compensate victims of unlawful activity and to help police prevent future unlawful activity. The signatories are:

  • Ontario;
  • British Columbia;
  • Alberta;
  • Manitoba;
  • New Brunswick;
  • Nova Scotia;
  • Saskatchewan.

In 2011-12, the ministry provided $2.68 million in grants to 40 police services across the province to assist victims and prevent unlawful activity that leads to victimization.

A report on the Walkerton Compensation Plan was released in May 2011, which stated that the manner in which the Government of Ontario performed its role could serve as a model for other similar situations.  The report noted that the plan has distributed over $72 million in compensation to residents of Walkerton and other people who suffered as a result of the contamination.

In June 2011, the Ontario Court of Justice launched the Integrated Domestic Violence Court in Toronto. The one family, one judge pilot allows a family who is dealing with domestic violence and family law issues to have both their criminal and family law cases heard by the same judge.

Provide an Efficient Court System

Family Justice

In 2011-12 the ministry continued to make improvements to Ontario's family law system. In the fall of 2011, the new Mandatory Information Program, Family Mediation Service and Information and Referral Coordinators were expanded from pilot sites to all family court locations across the province.  These reforms help to strengthen the family justice system and improve access to justice for the more than 164,000 people who use Ontario family courts every year by making the system easier to use, less confrontational and more affordable.

On January 1, 2012, the pension division and valuation provisions in the Family Statute Law Amendment Act, 2009 came into force, making it easier for couples to divide the value of a pension in the case of marriage breakdown. The amendments clarify how and when pensions are evaluated when marriages break down and allow pension plans to pay out a portion of the equalization payment owed to a spouse from the pension fund itself.

Human Rights Review

When the Legislature passed the Government's human rights reform bill, it included a commitment to review the new system's progress after three years. In August, 2011,the ministry appointed Andrew Pinto, a prominent human rights and employment lawyer, to conduct a review of the implementation and effectiveness of changes resulting from amendments to the Human Rights Code that came into effect in June 2008. Mr. Pinto is required to prepare a report on his findings and submit his report to the Attorney General within one year of his appointment.

Jury Rolls Review

In August 2011, the ministry retained a former Supreme Court of Canada Justice, the Honourable Frank Iacobucci, to review the process for including individuals living in First Nations reserve communities on the province's jury rolls. Mr. Iacobucci will review existing processes, hold consultations, evaluate best practices, and provide a final report within a year. As part of the review, recommendations will be made on how to enhance First Nations representation on the jury roll.

Courthouse Modernization

Throughout 2011-12 Ontario continued to work towards creating a modern, effective and accessible justice system by continuing to fund its new courthouse construction program and investing in existing courthouses.

In June 2011, a ground-breaking ceremony was held on the site of the historic Elgin County Courthouse which will be incorporated into the new St. Thomas Consolidated Courthouse. The new building will bring together St. Thomas's two courts: the Superior Court of Justice and the Ontario Court of Justice. Expected to be completed in late 2013, the new facility will improve access to justice for the County of Elgin by increasing the number of available courtrooms and will provide better access and security while improving health and safety standards.

The construction of a new Quinte Consolidated Courthouse got underway in July 2011 and is expected to be completed in mid-2013. The new facility will improve access to justice by consolidating the Superior Court of Justice and Ontario Court of Justice, which are currently operating in four court locations – three in Belleville and one in Trenton. The new multi-storey building will provide more available courtrooms, better security and improved access for people with disabilities.

Both projects will be designed and built to meet the Canada Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Silver standards, incorporating environmentally sustainable construction practices and energy efficient design.

Since 2003, the ministry has built, or significantly renovated or expanded 21 courthouses across the province, boosting the regional economies by creating and supporting hundreds of jobs for each project.

In addition to these capital projects, the ministry is constantly upgrading and renewing existing facilities.

Serve the Public Interest

LeSage Report - Special Investigations Unit (SIU)

In late December 2009, the ministry retained former Chief Justice Patrick LeSage to help improve communications and build a framework for resolution of any police/SIU issues.  On April 7, 2011, the Attorney General announced that he had received Mr. LeSage's recommendations regarding:

  • serious injury;
  • right to counsel;
  • officer's notes;
  • Attorney General directive;
  • report of investigation by Chief of Police;
  • press release/public statement;
  • further review in two years.

On June 23, 2011, the Attorney General announced Ontario was acting on Justice LeSage's recommendations.  On August 1, 2011, amendments to a regulation made under the Police Services Act came into force. The amendments:

  • prohibit witness officers from being represented by the same legal counsel as subject officers;
  • require that a police officer's notes be completed by the end of the officer's tour of duty, except where excused by the Chief of Police;
  • explicitly provide that a police officer involved in an incident shall not communicate directly or indirectly with any other police officer involved in the same incident concerning their involvement in the incident until after the SIU has completed its interviews.

Modernizing Alcohol Regulations

In 2011-12 the ministry took a number of steps to modernize alcohol regulations to remove outdated restrictions and better serve Ontarians.

In June 2011, the following changes to Ontario's Liquor License Act came into effect:

  • festivals and events can define an area larger than beer tents where people can walk around freely with drinks. Local communities are free to customize the events to their needs;
  • restaurant and bar servers can carry drinks on public sidewalks to licensed areas such as patios;
  • special events such as weddings or charity fundraisers can serve alcohol for an extra hour until 2 a.m.;
  • all-inclusive vacation packages can now be sold in Ontario;
  • business owners can give a complimentary drink to customers to celebrate a special occasion like an anniversary.

The province also strengthened enforcement by adding additional monetary penalties against those who violate Ontario's liquor laws.

Further changes came into effect on August 2, 2011:

  • more advance notice to municipalities and local officials (e.g. police) of public events were required;
  • businesses that are not mainly in the food and alcohol business
    (e.g. art galleries and spas) are eligible to apply for ongoing liquor sales licenses.

In December 2011, Ontario announced it would review old liquor delivery services rules that hinder companies and impede organizations providing social good in communities.  It will be consulting with partners on changes that could allow delivery services, such as those run by charities, to enter into exclusive business relationships with any liquor manufacturer. In the meantime, the province amended the regulations under the Liquor Licence Act so that licensed liquor delivery services can now buy alcohol directly from any authorized retail store, including small craft breweries and wineries, instead of only from the LCBO or The Beer Store.

Tobacco Litigation

In 2011-12, the ministry continued to seek to recover past and ongoing health care costs linked to tobacco related illness caused by a breach of duty by the tobacco companies. The claim is for $50 billion.  Ontario was successful in opposing a motion by the foreign defendants challenging jurisdiction.  The decision is under appeal.  Motions to strike and for particulars will proceed once the jurisdiction motion is resolved.

Legislative Changes

In June 2011, the Ensuring Integrity in Ontario Elections Act, 2011 was passed allowing for Ontarians to be better protected against misleading phone calls and other fraudulent attempts to stop them from voting.

The Act makes it illegal to:

  • impede or attempt to stop a citizen from voting by providing false information directly or indirectly, such as providing voters with incorrect information on the polling station where they would be voting in a provincial election;
  • impersonate an agent or representative of Elections Ontario, a provincial candidate, or a representative of a candidate, political party or constituency association;
  • direct or hire someone or a company to commit the above offences.

Penalties include fines of up to $25,000 and up to two years less a day in prison.

On January 1, 2012, an amendment to a regulation under the Architects Act came into force, reducing the number of experience hours required for licensure from 5,600 hours (3 years) to 3,720 hours (2 years). The amendment addressed the challenges faced by intern architects in obtaining the mandatory experience needed to obtain a licence.

Table 1: Ministry Expenditures 2011/12

This table outlines the Ministry’s Expenditures in 2011-12, for both Operating and Capital.
Interim Outlook 2011/12, The Ministry of the Attorney General (Excludes Consolidations) (Restated)

Table 2: Staff Strength as of March 31, 2011

This table outlines the Ministry’s staff strength as of March 31, 2011.
* Human Resources - MAG