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Ontario Courthouse Security

January 5, 2015 permalink

Ontario has eliminated public trials. Not by a law, but by imposition of court security. All persons entering a courthouse have to state their business to building security. It is unlikely that the words of a traditional spectator such as: "I am just looking around for interesting cases" will get you in.

Why the security? Courts have moved beyond locking up muggers and bank robbers and advanced to separating parents and children. The love of a parent for a child is greater than the love of a thief for his money, so breaking up a family is more dangerous to the court staff.



Family court lawyer urges colleagues to speak out against new courthouse security

New security legislation affecting access to Ontario courthouses is an overreaction by the provincial government and “vulnerable” to a Constitutional challenge, a leading Ottawa family court lawyer said Friday.

Pam MacEachern, part of a family law community that handles more than half of Ottawa court business, is urging more lawyers to speak out about changes to the Police Services Act.

“My hope is that enough people would speak out against limiting public access to the judicial process and raise issues about how this is a step in the wrong direction,” MacEachern told the Citizen.

The Defence Counsel Association of Ottawa has described the new measures as “draconian.”

The Ottawa courthouse has had three open access entrances since it opened in 1986 but when a $1-million-plus security re-construction project is finished next spring, members of the public will have to line up at the Elgin Street entrance to be security-screened and pass through metal detectors.

What irks lawyers most are new measures already in place where police and security guards are asking members of the public to state their business at the courthouse and respond to any other related questions.

Ottawa court officials planned to introduce the enhanced security as a package with the metal detectors and searches but fast tracked the “question and answer” screening portion after October’s shooting at the nearby National War Memorial.

Police and security staff can also search people if they choose to do so and, in extreme cases, arrest them.

“I’m not thrilled about metal detectors,” said MacEachern, “but they are installed in many other courthouses. We just escaped it in Ottawa for a while. “

But questioning and possibly searching people is an overreaction, she said.

“In the name of security we are attacking a fundamental underpinning of our democratic process,” she said. “There is no basis for doing it. More people get shot in fast food outlets than in courthouses.”

While many of the complaints about the new security measures are common to all lawyers, people arriving to resolve family issues such as custody and financial support are especially vulnerable and likely to be intimidated at the courthouse door, added MacEachern.

“You’ve got people from marginalized groups who have an urgent need for the justice system to assist them,” she said. “To put up barriers to (those) people is concerning.’

Defence Counsel Association president Trevor Brown, who has vowed to challenge the new measures at a stakeholder meeting at the courthouse later this month, has called them fundamentally flawed.

“While there is always a need to make sure the courts are secure,” he said, “these are draconian measures, and are susceptible to arbitrary use and abuse.

“One should not be required to submit to an interrogation and a search as the price to be paid for accessing what are supposed to be public courts,” he added. “The courts are where we go for protection and enforcement of our most fundamental rights and freedoms. It’s not supposed to be the place we go to have them abused.”

The traditional system of placing portable metal detectors outside courtrooms where high-profile cases are being heard has worked well, said Brown.

Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services and Ottawa-Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi says that police in each jurisdiction are best-placed to decide on security levels at courthouses.

Source: Ottawa Citizen