Inside the city’s second-busiest courthouse, where the days are short, lunch is long, and justice trudges on at a sluggish pace.
Last year, Metro East’s 12 courtrooms handled almost a fifth of Toronto’s 53,280 criminal cases. Found in an Eglinton East strip mall across from a Winners, the low-ceilinged, fluorescent-lit space is the city’s second-busiest courthouse after stately, crumbling Old City Hall. Here’s a snippet of the human drama that played out on Wednesday, May 8.
› 9:30 a.m., courtroom 407: Presiding over a busy, low-level administrative court was Justice of the Peace Chimbo Poe-Mutuma (one of only two black men behind the bench at Metro East on this day, where the caseload was largely black and brown male defendants). To save the cost of transporting prisoners, some of the briefest interactions happen via video link. The court clerk scrolled through a menu of Ontario jails using a remote. On the Sony Bravia, men in orange jumpsuits appeared grainy and askew.
› 10:25 a.m., courtroom 408: Of the 5,481 youth trials in Toronto last year, 1,215 happened here. A black teenager with glasses and a slightly pointed goatee sat in the prisoner’s box, his long-sleeved maroon t-shirt a sign that he was being held in Roy McMurtry Youth Centre in Brampton. He was charged with two murders, 21 counts of aggravated assault, and discharging a firearm. His lawyer couldn’t be found so a police officer put him in handcuffs and walked him back down to the holding cells below the courthouse.
› 10:45 a.m. courtroom 405: A woman in a pale aqua salwar kameez was seated next to a translator, crying through her son’s sentencing. He was tall, with a short ponytail, and had been in custody for 184 days. Last year, when he was 17, he stabbed two people. One ended up with a collapsed lung. The Crown wanted a two-year jail sentence. The defence lawyer argued for a group home, so the accused can attend mosque and spend time with his wife.
› 11:40 a.m., courtroom 413: Sixty per cent of Toronto’s murder arrests make it to trial. Ahmed was accused of shooting a man at a bar in September 2011. A forensics expert with a flashy watch explained how to distinguish between a stab wound and a gunshot wound (length, depth, and abrasions at the entry point). After the testimony, Ahmed’s trial ended for the day.
› Noon to 2 p.m.: Most courtrooms closed for lunch. One judge headed to Pho Saigon around the corner.
› 2:02 p.m., courtroom 407: About 20 people piled in for an information session before their first court appearance. A short, straight-talking white woman with a long, brown ponytail introduced herself as duty counsel, the government-appointed lawyer who can help those accused navigate early appearances (but can’t represent them at trial).
› 2:45 p.m., courtroom 411: Justin, who’d been there since 10 a.m., was sentenced to a year of probation and 50 hours of community service. He has a record for robbery and weapons possession. This time, the white twentysomething stole a $52.70 bottle of champagne on Valentine’s Day.
› 3:20 p.m., courtroom 406: A blond female police officer with a full tattoo sleeve observed the final day of trial for a chubby man named Bilal, who faced 16 counts of identity theft and fraud. The judge promised a decision by June 5—it takes, on average, 160 days for a case at Metro East to make it from first court appearance to completion, 34 days higher than the provincial average.
› 3:30 p.m., courtroom 407: The people left in the room weren’t on the docket (a daily list of the accused, their charges, and scheduled appearance times), so the court clerk started pointing at random to determine who would go next. Last of all was an old, heavily wrinkled little man holding his official appointment sheet. No one could figure out what was supposed to happen to him here today. Poe-Mutuma signed the sheet to prove he showed up. “Don’t lose that,” said the JP. “Hold on to it for at least six months so the police can’t charge you again.”
› 4 p.m.: Metro East was done for the day.