Court Site Study of Adult Unrepresented Accused in the Provincial Criminal Courts (Part 2: Site Reports)

Chapter 9: Scarborough, Toronto, Ontario

9.1 Objectives and methodology

The Department of Justice and the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Permanent Working Group on Legal Aid engaged the research team to measure:

  • The frequency with which accused persons are appearing before the court without representation – at different stages of the court process.
  • The impacts of self-represented accused – on themselves, on other groups involved in the court process, and on the courts in total.

A brief overview of the full national study – covering nine court sites – was presented in Chapter 1. The methodology for the Scarborough part of the national study followed a strategy for data collection and site visits similar to that followed in the other sites.

9.1.1 Report Format

The findings for Scarborough are presented in seven sections.

Section 1 outlines the objectives of the study, describes the format of the report, and discusses the methodology used to collect information.
Section 2 provides important contextual information for interpreting the findings of the report. Special attention is give to key characteristics of the community, the court, legal aid, duty counsel and disclosure.
Section 3 describes how frequently self-represented accused appear at different stages of the court process.
Section 4 explores the frequency with which accused persons have other types of representation, and how those frequencies vary at different stages of the court process.
Section 5 focuses on the important impacts of self-representation on the accused. The section discusses both perceptions provided from our interviews and empirical evidence from data especially collected for the project.
Section 6 then describes other significant impacts due to the presence of unrepresented accused – on the key groups involved in the courts (e.g. legal aid, duty counsel, Crown attorneys, judges and court personnel) and on court operations (including: court workloads and time to deal with and dispose of cases).
Section 7 completes the report with key overall findings and solutions that have been suggested by those interviewed in Scarborough.

9.1.2 Methodology

The methodology involved data collection and site visits.  Information was available on the question of unrepresented accused from three sources:

  • A Disposed Cases sample.   This special file was created manually by an experienced former court manager by coding data from informations for a sample of 495 disposed cases[73] that involved a Criminal Code offence or violation of another federal statute, and were disposed in September through November, 2001. Data were collected on the characteristics of each case (e.g., offence type), and on events and decisions that were taken at each of some 3,132 case/appearances (e.g., plea, elections, remands, verdicts and sentences) associated with the 495 cases.
  • A Direct Court Observation sample.  This was a sample of events and decisions that occurred in 510 case appearances directly observed during ten days in bail court, first appearance, plea court and set date court during June and July of 2002.[74]
  • Key Person Interviews. These were conducted with over 20 key informants (judges, Crowns, legal aid staff and management, court administration and court clerks, private bar members, local service agencies, etc.).  Most interviews were from 30 minutes to one hour duration, covered all aspects of the study, and most were conducted by two interviewees.  The anonymity of those interviewed was ensured. 

In all parts of the project, we received excellent co-operation and assistance from all those we asked to participate in the study.  We also readily acknowledge the very able assistance and expertise of the local Scarborough worker who assisted in observing in court and in creating the disposed cases file.

9.2 Context of the court and legal aid

One of the major conclusions – supported from data from all sites – was that data on the extent of legal representation in a particular court cannot be interpreted out of context of (at least):

  • The type of community served (including the nature of accused persons brought before the court).
  • The resources and management and operations practices in place in the courts.
  • Legal aid policies and practices, and especially those relating to duty counsel.
  • The policies and practices of all of the other key participants in the court process – including the judiciary, the police, the Crown attorneys, court workers, court administrative officials, the private bar and other supporting agencies.

All of these factors, policies and practices can have significant mitigating or exacerbating influences on the impacts of self-representation.  This contextual information is thus essential to understanding the problems and potential solutions to challenges related to the unrepresented accused.

This section will specifically address the first three of the above areas.  Information on the fourth is contained throughout the report.

9.2.1 The community

The former city of Scarborough (incorporated in 1983) merged with five other cities to form the new City of Toronto in January 1998. It comprises Toronto's East Side, covering a large geographic area, and is home to a variety of industries, numerous apartment complexes and housing rentals. It is a highly multicultural community whose population represents 13 percent of all immigrants to Canada. Since 1980, the majority of new arrivals have come from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. Overall, the largest proportion of immigrants have come from Italy, followed by the United Kingdom, People's Republic of China, Hong Kong and Jamaica. From 1991 to 1996, the city saw the arrival of over 300,000 new immigrants; the most numerous groups were people from Sri Lanka, the People's Republic of China, the Philippines, Hong Kong and India. In the 2001 Census, just under 66 percent of Scarborough residents reported that the language most in use at home was English, compared to 83 percent for Ontario as a whole. The next most commonly used languages were Chinese (12.8 percent), Tamil (4 percent), Tagalog (1.5 percent), Italian and Greek (1 percent each), and Macedonian, Gujarati, Farsi, Urdu and Polish.

Scarborough had an estimated population of 612,581 in July 2001, an increase of 6.16 percent from 1996. This was comparable to the increase over the same period for Ontario as a whole (6.45 percent). About 20 percent of males and 19 percent of females were in the 15-to-29 age range associated with the highest rates of crime.

The average household income in Scarborough in 2001 was $57,642, compared to $60,862 for the province of Ontario overall. The per capita income in Scarborough was $19,460, compared to the provincial figure of $22,848.

The unemployment rate for male residents of Scarborough was estimated at 7.1 percent, and for females it was higher, at 9 percent. This was higher in both cases than the rates for males (5.2 percent) and females (6.2 percent) in the province as a whole.

Of the estimated population of Scarborough over the age of 15 in 2001 (495,169), 10 percent had less than a Grade 9 education, while 23 percent had from Grade 9 to Grade 13 without a certificate or diploma. This echoed the statistics for the province of Ontario as a whole, where an estimated 10 percent of the over-15 population had less than a Grade 9 education, and 23 percent had from Grade 9 to Grade 13 without a certificate or diploma.

There were approximately 171,563 families in Scarborough in 2001, and, of these, 19 percent were single-parent families. This is higher than the estimated provincial rate of 14 percent.

Of the estimated 206,807 private dwellings in Scarborough in 2001, it was somewhat surprising to note, given the amount of rental housing in the area, that 60 percent were owner-occupied. The provincial rate was 65 percent owner-occupied for the same year.


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