Definition: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
- Significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere
- Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all
- Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels
- Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision making at all levels
List of Policy Changes and Cuts:
- Reduced funding and infrastructure support for the Anti-racism directorate
- Reduced funding for Legal Aid Ontario
- Changed polices relating to Police oversight and accountability
- Introduced legislation that would make it more difficult for legal action to be taken against the provincial government
- Introduced policy that requires all universities and colleges to develop and implement a “free speech” policy
- Changed ancillary fees for colleges and universities to make certain services “optional”
- Reduced compensation for victims of violent crimes
- Increased pool of Jury candidates
This Sustainable Development Goal relates to the efforts made to address different forms of structural violence, promoting the rule of law, accessing justice, and supporting vulnerable populations. It has been found that social cohesion and feelings of safety are associated with improved mental health within neighbourhoods. As referenced in the Social Capital project by the Toronto Foundation, cultivating strong communities and trust in institutions is a key to making healthy and productive communities.[i]
In 2016, the Anti-Racism Directorate (ARD) was established to help eliminate systemic racism in Ontario by holding public consultations on practices such as carding and street checks. The directorate was also tasked with producing reports that would help develop an anti-racism strategy for the province. Over the past year, it has been scaled back. In late 2018, subcommittees of the directorate that consulted on issues of anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous discrimination, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism were disbanded. There was a five per cent reduction of the ARDs budget in 2019, though an unspecified amount has been budgeted towards “anti-racism initiatives.”
Another budgetary change that affects racialized groups and low-income populations is the decrease in funding to Legal Aid Ontario (LAO). The organization’s mandate is to promote access to justice throughout Ontario for low-income individuals, and carries out its objective through private sector lawyers, and community-based legal aid clinics that are funded by the LAO. The recent budget indicated that LAO would receive $133 million less than the previous year and would also be barred from using provincial funds for refugee and immigration cases. This comes at a time when there has been a marked increase in the number of refugee claims that the LAO has had to process. The decrease has already resulted in the LAO announcing that they will no longer be compensating lawyers to represent clients at bail hearings.
There have also been legislative changes that affect the public’s trust in institutions, such as the Police. The previous government introduced legislation to strengthen police oversight, which the current government repealed. Currently, complaints about the police can be filed with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD). The office conducts systemic reviews to tackle larger issues within policing, such as the probe into the Thunder Bay Police Service’s handling of cases involving deaths or disappearances of Indigenous people. The previous government’s legislation would have made the OIPRD fully independent – the new legislation does not. This is an issue as Justice Tulloch’s report notes that most public complaints brought to the OIPRD are referred back to the police service for investigation.[ii] He concluded that this “erodes public confidence in the complaints process,” resulting in distrust within our public institutions. This is more pronounced for populations who are disproportionately targeted by police or involved in police incidents. This is evident as 54 per cent of Black respondents in a recent study in the GTA believe that police were not treating Black people fairly, and only one per cent thought that Black people would rarely or never experience unfair treatment by police. The government has also passed legislation making it more difficult for lawsuits to be brought against the provincial government if it is negligent or reckless in its operations. While the change does not impact disputes over contracts, constitutional issues, human rights or judicial review of government decisions, it does provide a level of immunity that could be perceived as a shield from accountability, eroding public trust.
A positive change in strengthening the justice system has been made by expanding the pool of potential jurors to better reflect economic and racial diversity. Following an investigation into racially imbalanced juries, it was decided that property ownership records would no longer be used for jury selection. The move to Ontario’s healthcare database for jury selection has the potential to transform how justice is undertaken in Ontario by giving the accused an opportunity to be judged by a true jury of peers.
[i] Toronto Foundation. (2018). Toronto Social Capital Study. Retrieved June 23, 2019, from https://torontofoundation.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/TF-SocialCapitalStudy-Final-Clean-min.pdf.
[ii] Tulloch, M. (2017). Report of the Independent Police Oversight Review. Ministry of the Attorney General. Retrieved June, 27, 2019, from https://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/about/pubs/police_oversight_review/.