Opening of the Courts
Chief Justice Annemarie Bonkalo
September 9, 2008
Chief Justices, Your Honour, colleagues, Mr. Attorney, Mr. Treasurer, members of the bar, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen.
I echo the welcome given by Chief Justices Winkler and Smith to our distinguished guests here today.
Today’s events celebrate justice in Ontario– its strength, its independence, its dedication to serving the people of Ontario. The judges and justices of the peace of the Ontario Court of Justice take great pride in these qualities. But it is no small challenge to meet these standards on a daily basis. Our Court presides over an enormous volume of litigation in communities large and small.
All criminal charges in Ontario, more than 600,000 per year, begin in our court and the vast majority conclude there. About 1.2 million Provincial Offences Act matters are handled each year by justices of the peace, who also review and issue search warrants, conduct bail hearings and issue process in criminal matters. In that large portion of the province still not served by a unified family court, our family court judges handle a significant portion of family law matters: some 27,000 child protection, custody and access, and support cases.
Handling such a high volume has not been easy. Each of these cases, whether criminal or family, is critically important to some member or members of our community. Some involve extremely grave issues. Some can be dealt with relatively quickly with the assistance of counsel, but many require our judges and justices of the peace to make careful assessments based only on the evidence before them. Some take an inordinate amount of time to bring to a conclusion because of their complexity and the amount of evidence. I am proud of the skill and care these judicial officers employ in making these difficult decisions.
But like Chief Justice Winkler, I worry that our court might not always be able to meet the challenge. In particular, the significant number of unrepresented litigants in both family and criminal matters requires judges and justices of the peace to use valuable court time to ensure litigants are given basic advice and assistance in court. Coming to a just decision is much, much harder when litigants are on their own in court. The Attorney’s recent decision to establish Legal Aid offices in a number of courthouses, allowing on-site applications, is a welcome step in the right direction.
I support the Chief’s call for review and reform and the implementation of a unified family court across the province, a call also made by my predecessor Chief Justice Lennox. The time for a full review of family justice in Ontario has arrived, and the judges of the Ontario Court of Justice are ready to assist and participate in such a review.
In criminal law, our Court has continued to address backlog with some success. Toronto, however, is struggling with the workload resulting from the massive prosecutions arising from the Guns and Gangs initiative. The Court and the Ministry of the Attorney General continue a useful dialogue on issues of backlog and resources, as well as other areas.
The time since the last Opening of Courts has been one of transition and achievement for the Ontario Court of Justice. Of course the regular work of the court has been diligently performed by judges and justices of the peace across the province, in courthouses large and small. Our judicial officers have also participated in a full range of activities—educational programs, committees such as the Family Rules Committee, the Chief Justices Information Technology Committee, and Justice and the Media. On a local level, administrative committees are active to ensure the best use of limited local judicial and courthouse resources.
Le Réseau ontarien d’éducation juridique continue d’établir de bonnes passerelles entre les collectivités marginalisées de la province et le système juridique. Les juges et juges de paix de la Cour de justice de l’Ontario ont joué un rôle-clé dans l’expansion des programmes destinés aux jeunes qui vivent dans des logements sociaux ou dans des quartiers où le taux de criminalité est élevé.
Ce sont des jeunes que les médias dépeignent souvent de façon négative. Grâce aux programmes du ROEJ, ces jeunes sont invités à discuter de diverses affaires avec des avocats et des juges, à participer à des simulacres de procès et à être exposés à l’éventail de carrières qu’offre le système juridique.
Our Court was pleased to provide input into the LeSage-Code Report on Complex Cases, and has committed the expertise of Associate Chief Justice Peter Griffiths as Chair of the Attorney’s Panel of Experts to advise on aspect of the Justice on Target Initiative. In this role, ACJ Griffiths is able to act collaboratively while ensuring that the Court’s independence from the legislative branch of government is maintained. Indeed, in this appointment and in other ways, the Attorney has demonstrated his commitment to a open, respectful relationship between his office and the Office of the Chief Justice.
In January 2007 amendments to the Justices of the Peace Act made fundamental changes to the way individuals are selected for appointment. The changes create an independent Justices of the Peace Appointments Advisory Committee and raise the minimum standards for appointment. Members of the Ontario Court, along with lay and legal members, participate on the Committee. To date, 39 appointments have been made under the new process.
The Court has completed its Family Law Vision Statement, a document that sets out its commitment to excellence in family law that will guide the Court in its policy decisions in family law. The result of considerable discussion and consultation by the Court’s Advisory Committee on Family Law, the Vision Statement commits the Court to:
- Meaningful access to justice to ensure the Court is serving the diverse needs of families and children in a manner that ensures public trust and confidence in the justice system;
- Fair and impartial decision making in an effective and timely manner; and
- An independent judiciary supported by an effective judicial administration.
Another achievement of which I am particularly proud is the production of the Court’s Biennial Report, to be released this month. This document follows the 2005 Report prepared under the direction of my predecessor Chief Justice Brian Lennox currently available on the Ontario Courts’ website, and which provides a complete report on the status of the Court and its workload. The new Report will also be available shortly online at the Ontario Courts’ website.
In the time since the last Opening of Courts, the administrative leadership of the Ontario Courts has seen significant change. Chief Justice Brian Lennox and Associate Chief Justice – Coordinator of Justices of the Peace Donald Ebbs both completed distinguished terms in office during 2007. I am pleased to welcome Associate Chief Justice – Coordinator of Justices of the Peace John Payne and Associate Chief Justice Peter Griffiths to their challenging roles.
In addition, since the last Opening of Courts, the Court Regional Senior Justice Timothy Culver of Central West Region completed his term, and Regional Senior Justice Bruce Thomas of the West Region accepted an appointment to the Superior Court of Justice. The Court welcomed Regional Senior Justice Kathryn Hawke to Central West Region and Regional Senior Justice Katherine McGowan to the West Region. To replace Associate Chief Justices Payne and Griffiths in their former roles, we welcome RSJ Gregory Regis in the Central East Region and RSJ Judith Beaman in the East Region.
The changes to Justices of the Peace Act proclaimed in January 2007 include for the first time statutory recognition of the position of Regional Senior Justice of the Peace. In the East Region the Court has been well served by Her Worship Claudette Holmes; in the Central East by Her Worship Cornelia Mews and His Worship Jack Wiley; in Toronto by His Worship Frank Devine, followed by Her Worship Diane MacAleer; in the Central West by His Worship Jerry Redmond; in the West Region by His Worship Frank Squires, followed by His Worship Stewart Taylor; in the Northwest by Her Worship Pasloski followed by His Worship Bruce Leaman, and in the Northeast by Her Worship Jane Forth followed by Her Worship Kathleen Bryant.
A Court can accomplish what it does only because of the able assistance of those who work in its courtrooms. On behalf of the judges and justices of the peace, I thank the staff and management of the Court Services Division who so willingly and ably assist in managing the Courts, and the local police services who handle courthouse security. The Court also thanks Counsel practicing in our Courts, whether in private practice, as Crown counsel, duty counsel or representing a particular agency. Justice is a day to day business, and we rely on these competent professionals to allow us to fulfil our obligations to the public day to day.