Toronto is getting a major new downtown courthouse, one that could replace as many as five aging locations that primarily hear criminal cases and are scattered across the city.
Ontario's Liberal government revealed plans for the new facility in the budget on Thursday, but Finance Minister Charles Sousa had scant details on how much a new home for the Ontario Court of Justice in the city would cost, or when it would open.
However, the government has a location in mind, according to provincial officials. The new courthouse is expected to be on provincially owned land just north of the Superior Court of Justice building at 361 University Ave., near Dundas Street.
The site is currently a surface parking lot.
The president of the Toronto Lawyers' Association said the cramped and "dismal" conditions at some of Toronto's court facilities – especially those in strip malls in the inner suburbs – have been a long-time concern for the city's legal community.
"There is a lot of emphasis on tough-on-crime policies, the difficulty is that the resources have not been applied to the infrastructure for the Ontario Court of Justice, which includes the prosecutors' office, the judiciary and the criminal defence lawyers," Joseph Neuberger said. "The optics of having a courthouse in a strip mall is exceptionally poor optics."
Right now, Ontario Court of Justice matters are heard in five leased locations: 777 College St., 1911 Eglinton Ave. E., 1000 Finch Ave. W., 2201 Finch Ave. W., and Old City Hall, the 1899 E.J. Lennox-designed landmark owned by the city.
Budget documents say the plan is to "consolidate Ontario Court of Justice operations from five different locations into one centralized site," a move that is expected to save $700-million over 30 years in lease fees.
However, Mr. Sousa provided no estimated price tag or potential opening date for the project, which is being pursued as a private-public partnership and still needs to secure municipal approvals.
Pressed by reporters on why he had so little information, Mr. Sousa said: "We are making a lot of investments, including the courthouse, and that's including a number of things that's outlined in other parts of the province … consultations are now under way."
The budget also will more than double the number of low-income Ontarians who qualify for legal aid by raising the income-eligibility threshold for the first time since the 1990s. Right now, a single person has to earn less than $12,500 a year to qualify for a legal aid certificate. The province has yet to determine how high it will raise the threshold.