ONTARIO – Too many charges, too few crimes.

……and, it’s costing every taxpayer in the province.

A Globe and Mail editorial on Friday, September 23, reviewed a contentious issue with the province’s justice system that’s been simmering for decades. Titled “Why Ontario courts are overcharged”, it questions a practice that is expensive, counterproductive, socially corrosive, and incidentally, should place a liability on the province for punitive damages…although it rarely does.

Ontario has the lowest violent crime rate in Canada but its justice system is chaotic and provincial jails are full of people on remand, waiting months and sometimes years for charges to be resolved.

The editorial was prompted by a newly-released study by the MacDonald-Laurier Institute which evaluates and grades criminal justice in the country’s provinces and territories. Its finding indicate police in Ontario lay too many charges that go nowhere. This is a common practice where peripheral charges are piled on for effect, or where unsolved crimes are ascribed to a person charged with a similar offence. What’s the old saying: Let’s run it up the pole and see who salutes!

Let’s cite the stats. In Ontario, 43 per cent of charges laid are eventually dropped or withdrawn. Of the balance, the conviction rate is 55 per cent. Ontario has the lowest conviction rate in the country, and the highest number of cases that are dropped. In Quebec and British Columbia by comparison, police must get the approval of a Crown prosecutor before laying charges. Quebec’s conviction rate is 75 per cent while only 8.6 per cent of charges are dropped or withdrawn. British Columbia has a 70 per cent conviction rate, with 29 per cent of cases dropped or withdrawn.

Ontario has argued that separating the police’s investigative function and the Crown’s prosecutorial role provides checks and balances for a more just system. There’s no indication offenders in Quebec and British Columbia are getting off lightly, while Ontario not only drives up costs across the board, but perception makes the process less transparent.

Perhaps the province could do the same with this issue as it is with the overuse of solitary confinement in its jails: have a study leading to a review leading to another study leading to………..

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