The new Toronto courthouse under construction downtown will bring an “unprecedented number of violent criminals to a single location” and it will be “extremely difficult” to prevent gang-related violence in the vicinity of the new building, according to a secret Toronto police report obtained by the Star.
Construction began this fall on Armoury St., near Dundas St. W. and University Ave., and the 17-storey, 63-courtroom structure is expected to be largely complete by spring 2022. With a price tag of almost $1-billion, the new courthouse will amalgamate the adult and youth criminal operations of six Ontario Court of Justice locations currently scattered across the city.
This will undoubtedly make the new building the busiest courthouse in Canada.
“It can be argued that forcing rival gang members to attend a single court location, where they are certain to encounter rival gangs in the vicinity of the courthouse, increases the likelihood that gang members will (a) carry weapons including firearms, and (b) utilize those weapons when confronted by rivals,” according to the June 2017 police report, titled “A TPS Perspective.”
“Having a single court location will also provide gang members with a known destination for their rivals and could be used as an opportunity for targeted attacks. While measures will no doubt be implemented to deter such incidents from occurring inside the courthouse, preventing them from occurring in the vicinity of the courthouse (following court appearances, for example) is extremely difficult.
“The scenario is further exacerbated by the fact that the (new Toronto courthouse) will be operating steps away from Superior Court. On any given court date, each and every criminally-accused person in the City of Toronto will attend court in the same geographic location. This is an unprecedented, and untested, scenario for the City of Toronto.”
A police spokesperson declined to comment to the Star about the report Friday.
It’s unclear how many people have seen the report, which says the Ministry of the Attorney General did not consult with Toronto police on its decision to centralize court operations under the previous Liberal government.
But a spokesman for the Ministry of the Attorney General said Friday that the ministry as well as Infrastructure Ontario “have worked extensively with the Toronto police service during every step of the planning” for the new courthouse.
“In fact, as a result of the comprehensive input provided by TPS and other police services, the (new Toronto courthouse’s) security features will meet or exceed those in other courthouses in Ontario,” Brian Gray told the Star. “The Government of Ontario has the utmost faith in the Toronto police service to ensure the security and safety of court facilities in the City of Toronto, including the new Toronto courthouse (when complete).”
Officers would need real-time intelligence to ensure rival gang members are not placed together in the holding cells, which could run the risk of assault, the report states, and could also open up the government to civil liability claims. The report references the case of Jason Walters, a former Malvern Crew member who was beaten by a rival gang member in the Don Jail in 2008 and awarded $3.4 million in damages in 2015, with the judge finding it was the province’s duty to monitor such feuds.
“The concern that I have in regards to grouping all these special threat groups together under one roof is that it requires real actionable intelligence information at all times in order to create a safe environment,” Det. Const. Kris Petersen, identified as having been qualified in court as an expert on street gang culture, is quoted as saying in the report.
“I fear that the scope of such intelligence is too great.”
The area where the courthouse will be located “bears arguably the highest risk” for an extremist attack, the report states, noting its proximity to many government buildings and landmarks, including the Superior Court of Justice, Osgoode Hall (which houses the Court of Appeal), the U.S. Consulate, the Eaton Centre and City Hall. The sector is also the site of dozens of demonstrations a year, the report says.
“The creation of (the new Toronto courthouse) in the proposed location creates the potential for delays and even a shutdown of every criminal proceeding in the City of Toronto as a result of a terrorism/extremist threat and/or a large demonstration,” the report says.
“It could be further argued that placing most of the Toronto region’s criminal prosecutors, the vast majority of the judiciary, and dozens of police officers in a single geographic location, makes the (new Toronto courthouse) itself (and neighbouring Superior Court) a potential target for extremist threats and/or events.”
As the ministry is “intent on moving forward with this initiative,” the report says police concerns must be “assessed with an eye to mitigation at every stage of the planning and design,” including additional police resources to secure the area around the courthouse, adequate segregation cells to deal with gang rivalries, and maximizing the use of court appearances by video.
Jacques Gallant is a Toronto-based reporter covering legal affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @JacquesGallant