Feds ordered to address Canada’s judge shortage

Housing isn’t the only shortage facing the federal government these days: It turns out there are about as many judges in Canada as there are apartments for under $1,500. 

What happened: Ottawa has been ordered to start appointing judges across the country more quickly, according to the Toronto Star. The ruling found that vacant judicial slots have backlogged the legal system, in some cases leading to criminal cases being tossed out. 

  • The presiding judge on the case, which was brought by a Canadian human rights lawyer, said the slow appointment process has created an “untenable and appalling crisis.”

Why it’s happening: According to the ruling, the government did not offer up a justification for its slow pace, but, since the feds began reforming the appointment process in 2016 to improve transparency and impartiality, unfilled vacancies jumped to 73 from the mid-40s.

  • Canada’s chief justice wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last year saying the pace of appointments could weigh down the benefits of the changes

Why it matters: Criminal cases in Canada need to be tried within 30 months, or they’re tossed out. Gun charges, an alleged sexual assault, and a human trafficking case are a few that have been recently thrown out of Toronto’s Superior Court because of judge vacancies.

  • In Alberta, nearly a quarter of criminal cases exceed that 30-month window, and more than 90% of those cases include “serious and violent crimes.”

Big picture: The chief justice has warned that the systemic judge shortage was not only causing cases to fall through the cracks but could undermine trust in the legal system.—LA