Courtesy of University of British Columbia Benjamin Perrin, co-author of a “report card” that ranked Yukon’s justice system as the worst in the country for a second year in a row, says the territory needs to take a look at itself instead of getting defensive.

Yukon’s justice system ranked worst in Canada for second year in a row

One of the report’s co-authors encouraged the territory to reflect instead of ‘nitpicking’

The co-author of a “report card” that grades Canada’s provincial and territorial justice systems says that the Yukon should take a look in the mirror instead of getting defensive after the territory’s justice system was ranked the worst in the country for a second year in a row.

Ottawa-based think tank the Macdonald-Laurier Institute released its second annual report comparing Canadian criminal justice systems March 5. Based on annual data collected by Statistics Canada, the report grades and scores provinces and territories on criteria like violent crime rates, median length of criminal cases, public confidence in police and how much funding legal aid receives.

The Yukon again ranked 13th with an overall “C” grade in this year’s report, which focused on data from 2017. Among the areas the territory’s justice system performed most poorly in were crime rates, breach of probation rates and legal aid funding — in fact, the territory did worse in those last two categories in 2017 than the year before.

Report co-author Benjamin Perrin, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s Peter A. Allard School of Law and senior fellow in criminal justice at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, said the jurisdictions’ responses to the report card “really make a big difference.”

“For example, when we put out this report card, the first one, in 2016, the Yukon was sort of concerned with the methodology and they said, ‘Well, we’re a large territory, it’s not really fair to compare us against provinces,’ and they had a number of other issues,” Perrin said in an interview March 6. “Other jurisdictions said, ‘Wow, we really performed poorly, we actually kind of need to take a hard look at this, and why is this happening?’”

Manitoba, in response to being the lowest-ranked province, launched a full review of its criminal justice system, Perrin said, and the provincial government has also announced that it will be introducing reforms to modernize the system.

“I mean, they’re looking at what they can do to make things better instead of, you know, nitpicking with the report itself, so I think the same thing needs to happen in the Yukon,” Perrin said.

“This is a major challenge, but I think there needs to be a real commitment from the Yukon government to improve their criminal justice system and to learn from the other two territories.”

Properly funding legal aid services is particularly important, Perrin said, because having a lawyer not only increases the likelihood of someone getting a fair, just outcome in criminal proceedings, but also speeds up the legal process and therefore, in the long run, saves money.

Despite being ranked last, the Yukon’s justice system does have some strengths, the report noted. Even with the high crime rates, the territory has the third-highest crime clearance rates in the country, receiving an A+ grade, a shorter-than-average criminal case length of 85 days and relatively low rates of failing to appear or being unlawfully at large. The Yukon also received an “A+” when it comes the the number of Criminal Code incidents per police officer.

Like the other territories though, Statistics Canada did not collect data in the Yukon on the public’s confidence in police, confidence in the justice system and perception of police being fair, data which is available for the provinces. It’s unknown how that data, if it existed, would have influenced the Yukon’s ranking and overall grade.

Perrin said the goal of the report isn’t to drive reforms in every area, but to serve as a diagnostic tool.

“Really, it’s an objective, independent look at how your justice system is doing and it’s highlighting a few concerns and the question then is, what do you do in response to those concerns? Do you agree with those concerns or not?” he said. “If you do, there needs to be some kind of follow-up on that and some kind of action taken.”

The justice department did not respond to a request for comment before press time.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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