Ontario justice system gets video facelift

A province-wide revamp of a video network infrastructure now lets all parties participate in the Ontario justice system, where before it may not have been possible for certain individuals to physically appear in court.

The Criminal Justice Video Network makes it possible for vulnerable witnesses such as children, remotely located experts, sick or handicapped individuals, and incarcerated individuals in other jurisdictions to have their say in court.

“It allows for active participation in the justice system,” said Bryan Hamer, head of information management planning with the Ontario Government’s Justice Technology Services in Toronto.

Now in place for 18 months, the new network standardized in 400 locations across Ontario was borne out of an initiative, spearheaded by Hamer, to replace the previous rudimentary infrastructure with a video over IP network, with the help of Toronto-based communications provider MTS Allstream Inc.

Hamer said the system is designed to be user friendly for court clerks and correctional facility officers. Having worked in government for 32 years, Hamer, himself, started as a correctional officer before taking on a dual IT and business role in the last decade.

“What’s driven me is making technology work for the business,” said Hamer, who admits he’s always had a penchant for IT.

Hamer is among a handful of Canadians nominated this year for the ITAC 10th Annual IT Hero Awards, which recognize the creative application of IT to significantly improve the lives of Canadians and demonstrate social and economic benefit.

ComputerWorld Canada will feature several nominees in the weeks preceding the unveiling of the winners on June 22. Hamer is nominated in the Community IT Hero Award category sponsored by Innovapost Inc. There is also a Corporate IT Hero Awards category sponsored by Research in Motion Ltd.

The Criminal Justice Video Network aligns with current issues of importance to Canadians, such as environmental sustainability, citizen safety and smart use of tax payer dollars, said Bruce McIntyre, senior account manager with MTS Allstream.

“Many features about it are great and nice to see the technology is being used in that way,” said McIntyre.

One challenge that was overcome was an aggressive timeline of six months in which to revamp the entire network infrastructure. The initiative, that started with a successful pilot in the north-western part of Ontario, was challenging given the sheer size of the geography, said McIntyre.

“You forget sometimes when we live in Ontario how large this province is,” he said.

Moving forward, Justice Technology Services is looking to take advantage of a fully managed service offering for the video network. It’s also planning to transition the initiative from merely being a “project” to an actual “program,” said Hamer.

That program, he said, will allow the technology to be quickly implemented across new locations in a standardized fashion.

“Video is becoming a part of doing business,” said Hamer. “Before, it was a fairly unique thing … now it’s becoming part of the technology that just about everybody uses.”

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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