‘Truly the courthouse of the future,’ Ontario’s AG says at opening of Toronto’s new court

By Amanda Jerome

Law360 Canada (February 28, 2023, 3:36 PM EST) -- Members of the judiciary, legal profession and the Ontario government came together on Feb. 28 to inaugurate Toronto’s new courthouse at 10 Armoury St. The 17-story courthouse includes 73 judicial hearing rooms, “upgraded security features, including a single point of entry with electronic screening and lockdown capability, video surveillance and monitoring,” as well as the first courthouse-based Indigenous Learning Centre in the province.

While members of the press highlighted safety and access to justice concerns with the new space, Attorney General Doug Downey said the development of the courthouse involved “nine years of collaboration with all parties” and it’s a “modern, accessible space.”

In his opening remarks, Downey noted the space will “bring together most of our criminal court services from six different locations throughout Toronto into one accessible, state-of-the-art courthouse.”

From l-r, MPP for Simcoe–Grey Brian Saunderson, Attorney General Doug Downey, Chief Justice Lise Maisonneuve and CEO of Infrastructure Ontario, Michael Lindsay, open Toronto's new  courthouse.

From l-r, MPP for Simcoe–Grey Brian Saunderson, Attorney General Doug Downey, Chief Justice Lise Maisonneuve and CEO of Infrastructure Ontario, Michael Lindsay, open Toronto’s new courthouse.

“With 73 judicial hearing rooms and modern technology that allows for virtual and hybrid hearings and upgraded security features, this is truly the courthouse of the future,” he added, noting that the structure was “built with everyone in mind; a courthouse that accommodates the unique needs of drug treatment, Gladue, youth and mental health courts as well as support for victims.”

Downey also noted that the courthouse was built with “accessibility features,” such as barrier-free courtrooms, textured and slip-resistant flooring, as well as environmentally conscious design.

“In the 19th and early 20th century, this area was formerly known as St. John’s Ward, one of the earliest immigrant settlements in Ontario,” Downey added, speaking of the court’s location.

The attorney general drew attention to images of the former site, which included photos of the ward when it was home to diverse groups of refugees and immigrants, prominently displayed on the wall behind him before thanking “Toronto Police Chief, Myron Demkiw and his team” for the “safety and security of the courthouse.”

“We’re grateful for the support in making the most secure courthouse in Ontario,” he added, stressing that “this will be a courthouse like no other, paying special attention to building and design.”

The attorney general also thanked the “many participants in the justice sector, who provided input into the program and design of the courthouse.”

Attorney General Doug Downey notes historic roots of courthouse in St. John's Ward. 

Attorney General Doug Downey notes historic roots of courthouse in St. John’s Ward. 

“This is an example of what you can do when we work collaboratively and get the job right, when we have a vision that is shared with all partners, a vision for the courthouse of the future. Working with many of you and working together with the courts, we have collectively risen to the challenges of modernizing Ontario's courts, breaking down barriers and speeding up access to Ontario's legal system. And we're just getting started,” he said, noting the project has “been no small feat.”

Chief Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice, Lise Maisonneuve, echoed many of the attorney general’s comments, noting the courthouse was “truly” a “collaboration.”

She said that the “new state-of-the-art facility amalgamates several dispersed criminal court locations throughout Toronto, resulting in a modern, efficient and accessible courthouse.”

“By bringing together the justice partners, the new Toronto courthouse will create incredible efficiencies and, as a result, members of the public will be better served. The court is committed to continue to work closely with all of the stakeholders to provide meaningful services and access to justice and enhance the administration of justice,” she concluded.

Michael Lindsay, the president and CEO of Infrastructure Ontario, noted that “this marks the sixth courthouse that Infrastructure Ontario has had the privilege to deliver” and “it certainly was the largest and the most complex.”

“This building is now the largest courthouse in Ontario, the second largest in Canada, and getting where we are today required no small amount of innovation, willpower, hard work and collaboration,” he said, noting that the past three years have been “hectic,” “challenging,” and “unpredictable.”

Lindsay explained that the project “broke ground in 2018 and when everything ran to a halt during the COVID-19 pandemic, construction on projects like this one, that were deemed essential, continued.”

“Behind that very simple statement is a truth, and that is that the project team had to work each and every day to think about how we will continue to adapt, solve the problems of social distancing and of supply chain discontinuity,” he said, noting proudly that the building is “more than just” a courthouse, but is home to an “Indigenous Learning Centre, the first of its kind in an Ontario courthouse.”

The centre, he added, will “host interactive exhibits and offer teaching opportunities and provide reference material relating to justice, injustice, truth and reconciliation as well as Indigenous legal traditions and systems.”

Like Downey, Lindsay highlighted the site’s link to St. John’s Ward, noting “it’s incredible to be able to acknowledge the history from those who trace their ancestral roots to this historic neighbourhood.”

“I’m happy that this will continue, moving forward, to be a place of commemoration as well as justice in equal measure,” he added.

According to a government release, the new courthouse will bring together six Ontario Court of Justice criminal court locations, including: “2201 Finch Avenue West (will remain open as the Toronto Region bail centre for adult bail hearings); 1000 Finch Avenue West; 444 Yonge Street (College Park); 1911 Eglinton Avenue East; 60 Queen Street West (Old City Hall); 311 Jarvis Street (youth criminal matters only).”

“The consolidation of resources will permit centralized criminal case management, a greater concentration of expertise, and the effective and efficient scheduling of judges, justices of the peace, Crown attorneys, court staff, duty counsel, and interpreters to support the timely processing of criminal matters,” Downey explained in a statement.

In addressing questions from the media, Downey said the new courthouse was necessary because “we have to bring modern and accessible facilities to Toronto and this is just a remarkable example of that.”

Members of the press noted that many people who work in the justice system have raised concerns with consolidating six courts into one location, raising safety and access to justice issues. However, the attorney general emphasized that “there’s been nine years of collaboration with all parties” on this project and many are “excited to work in a modern accessible space.”

“Some of the features here wouldn’t have been envisioned nine years ago, and to see them come alive, some of those attitudes have changed for sure,” he added.

The media also questioned whether there was enough space in the building to accommodate justice sector participants, such as Crown attorneys.

Downey noted that the building will “house around 1,100 people including the judiciary.”

“There are 8,000 employees in the Ministry of Attorney General. Clearly, they’re not all going to fit into this building. We own offices around this space,” he said, referencing the Court of Appeal, which can be seen from the new courthouse.

“We’ll continue to use the assets that we have in the Ministry of the Attorney General to best serve and will maximize the space for its needs,” he added.

According to a government release, the courthouse was “designed by the internationally renowned Renzo Piano Building Workshop in partnership with Canadian-based architecture firm NORR Architects. Renzo Piano designed the Shard skyscraper in London, England, as well as the Whitney Museum of Modern Art in New York City.”

The courthouse was also “built to meet the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver standard, which recognizes buildings with reduced environmental impacts.”

Courthouse photos by Amanda Jerome

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for Law360 Canada, please contact Amanda Jerome at Amanda.Jerome@lexisnexis.ca or 416-524-2152.