Editorial: Lasting effects of closing POA court

SDG Counties council supported not renewing the leases for the two satellite Provincial Offences Act courts October 16, effectively shuttering these services to residents in Dundas and Glengarry Counties. Citing the annual costs, dwindling pre-pandemic use, and the high cost to upgrade court equipment, council supported a staff recommendation to let the leases expire and consolidate the court in Cornwall.

The two courts, one in Morrisburg, the other in Alexandria, have been operated by SDG since 2001. As the first COVID-19 related closures took effect in March 2020, POA services have only been available at the SDG Counties administration building in Cornwall.

The financial argument to discontinue the two leases is compelling. Combined, it costs the Counties $6,750 a year to lease the two spaces. Upgrading equipment at the two courts could possibly run over $50,000 per location. This is money that could be spent elsewhere. However, there is a lasting effect related to closing the POA court in these two communities – both losing access, and the potential of losing further services.

Provincial Offences is only one court service offered in Morrisburg and Alexandria’s satellite courts. The province’s Ministry of the Attorney General operates criminal and civil court in those two locations as well. Both are overseen by the main courthouse in Cornwall. Provincial court services have resumed in those two courts after a period of closure due to the pandemic. While The Leader cannot speak for Alexandria’s court days, Morrisburg’s appear to be well attended.

Having the ability for people in Dundas County and Glengarry County to attend court, in-person, close to their place of residence is a benefit to both the justice system, and the community. For those involved with the justice system at whatever capacity, it means not taking a full day off work to go to Cornwall to deal with matters in person. Even with technology advancements, not all court matters are allowed to be dealt with virtually. This is also true of Provincial Offences. People in Dundas and Glengarry will have to go to Cornwall to deal with these matters. That is additional time. Potential income losses are a further penalty to those already involved with the legal system. The risk to closing the Counties’ satellite courts is the potential of the Ministry examining the same consolidation for criminal and civil courts.

There is a cost to having services delivered in communities, which is often higher when these services are available in smaller communities like Morrisburg and Alexandria. Determining the availability of government services in communities based solely on a cost-benefit analysis and opting for the cheapest option ignores the intangible benefits to a community of having access. Many communities in Ontario lack court satellite court services due to budget cuts from 20, 30, and 40 years ago. At what price does access to the justice system become too much?

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