York Region serves first electronic warrants

The Ontario Public Service’s Justice cluster will explore the possibility of instituting an electronic warrant (e-warrant) system across the province, according to its CIO John DiMarco.

The Justice cluster has just completed a pilot project for the e-warrant system, in which a justice of the peace is able to issue police search warrants electronically through the use of electronic signatures, DiMarco told attendees at a recent breakfast forum held in Toronto hosted by the Information Technology Association of Canada.

“The driver was obviously the fact that today, when police officers are requesting a warrant, they are using fax paper to actually get in front of the Justice of Peace to be able to issue the warrant itself,” he said.

That process used to take anywhere between 46 to 80 hours, DiMarco said. The e-warrant pilot, which was conducted in York Region, enabled the York Regional Police to obtain a warrant within 45 minutes.

DiMarco said the pilot was the first-ever e-warrant implementation in the country so there was much emphasis on the importance of ensuring that the electronic signatures used for issuing the warrants would hold up in a court of law.

“Being the first in any, you have to ensure that the judicial process or the court process will actually work (in case there are) any follow up afterwards that would try to actually dispute the process itself,” he explained.

During the e-warrant pilot in York Region, no dispute arose questioning the warrants issued, he added.

The success of the pilot project relied on the involvement and collaboration of all parties concerned from the very beginning, DiMarco said, identifying the business processes, determining what would work and developing the electronic signatures.

“This was a true pilot in itself in a sense that it had a start and an end,” he said. “And then we evaluated the pilot itself and then looked at what does it mean if we wanted to roll something like this out.”

While the e-warrant pilot was a success, DiMarco said developing the right business case to justify the feasibility of a province-wide deployment is another matter. That is another challenge especially when taking into consideration the province’s large geographical foot print, with over 63 municipal police services and multiple local justices of the peace.

There needs to be a determination of what such widespread implementation would entail not only on cost, but on the actual roll-out.

“It’s one thing to do it in one jurisdiction, but now if you’re going to say you are going to do this across the province, then you have to put this against all the other competing priorities ofcourse,” DiMarco said.

Policy considerations will also be part of the evaluation, he said. The pilot in York Region included a scope, business process definition as well as key performance indicators, which allowed DiMarco’s team to do benchmarking.

Whether e-warrants will be in the future of the Ontario justice system has yet to be determined, after the business case and qualitative and quantitative benefits are established and held up against other priority projects that are in the pipeline across the province, DiMarco said.

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