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2011 Opening of the Courts Speech

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Remarks by Annemarie E. Bonkalo, Chief Justice, Ontario Court of Justice

September 13, 2011

Chief Justices, Your Honour, I echo the welcome of Chief Justice Winkler and Chief Justice Smith to you and to our distinguished guests here today. It is a pleasure to share the accomplishments of our Court with all of you.

As Chief Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice, I am appointed for a set time and I am about half way through my eight-year term. I am pleased to provide you with both an update of our recent achievements and a look at our plans for the future.

Je qualifie la Cour de Justice de l’Ontario de “tribunal populaire” car notre Cour traite un très grand nombre d’affaires dans les grands centres urbains comme dans les régions rurales. Toutes les affaires pénales sont portées devant elle et la plupart de ces affaires y sont définitivement jugées. Dans la majorité des cas, les parties rendent dans nos tribunaux, mais nous effectuons aussi des déplacements pour entendre des affaires dans plus de deux cent localités de la province.

In 2010, the Ontario Court of Justice had before it over 590,000 criminal code charges, millions of provincial offence and highway traffic charges, and more than 27,000 families in crisis. This growing volume is a challenge, obviously, but one we are able to meet by working in collaboration with the other members of the justice community.

The shared vision for the Ontario Court of Justice is “promoting and achieving excellence” in realizing our objectives, which include:

  1. Maintaining an environment in which cases are tried in a respectful, impartial, transparent and effective way;
  2. Making continuous efforts to improve judicial services and enhance access to justice for Ontarians, including minorities, the vulnerable and those who reside in remote communities; and
  3. Enhancing public awareness and understanding of the Court and its role.
  4. Innovating and working collaboratively in carrying out our duties within the Court and with others in the justice community.

The following are some examples of our vision in action:

1. To reinforce our commitment to trying cases in a respectful, impartial, transparent and effective way:

Guide for Defendants in Provincial Offences Cases

As the vast majority of defendants in Provincial Offences Court are unrepresented, the Court is preparing a procedural guide for defendants to help them through the court process.

The goal is to enhance participants’ understanding of the justice system, generally, and POA court, specifically.

2. In our ongoing efforts to improve judicial services and enhance access to justice for Ontarians, I want to share these examples:

Criminal Rules

The final version of the Court’s new criminal rules of practice is now with the Office of the Legislative Counsel for drafting into a proposed regulation under the Criminal Code.

Remarkably, there are only five plain-language rules.

There is also a preamble that sets out the obligations of all parties to the Court and to each other, together with guidance in the interpretation of these Rules.

They were developed collaboratively with our judges and justices of the peace and with extensive input from groups and individuals throughout the justice community.

Family Court initiatives

In June, we were very pleased to launch the Integrated Domestic Violence Court at the 311 Jarvis Street courthouse.

This is a pilot project in which a single judge hears both the criminal and the family law cases, excluding divorce, family property and child protection matters that relate to one family, where there has been a charge of domestic violence.

We hope to make the system easier to navigate for these families, increase the consistency of court orders and resolve these proceedings more quickly, and at less expense to all.

This initiative is the result of discussions with many justice participants, aimed at establishing a more integrated and holistic approach to families experiencing domestic violence.

We have also recently welcomed the Ministry’s expansion of family law services province-wide.

Members of the Court are part of local implementation committees overseeing the establishment of the Mandatory Information Program, Family Mediation Service and Information and Referral Coordinators at all court locations. These services will help improve justice for families in crisis.

Child Protection Training Program

Last year, in response to the growing shortage in Ontario of child protection lawyers, judiciary from the Ontario Court of Justice co-hosted a four-day Child Protection Training Program for young lawyers. It was so successful that it is now being offered by the Law Society.

Together, we are working to ensure there are resources in our system to support some of the most vulnerable individuals in need of justice services.

Specialized education

Our justice environment grows increasingly complex. As part of our commitment to better respond to the population we serve and increase access to justice, earlier this year the Court held education sessions for judges and justices of the peace focusing on the province’s aboriginal population.

In May, a one-day program was held at the Native Canadian Centre in Toronto to discuss issues concerning urban aboriginals in conflict with the law and to explore ways to expand service to this vulnerable population.

In June each year, Senior Justice of the Peace/Administrator of the Native Justices of the Peace Program, Richard Le Sarge has organized and has moderated a three-day workshop for the Court’s twenty- eight Native Justices of the Peace.

Justice of the Peace Le Sarge will be retiring next March. His Worship will have served in his current position for over seventeen years. On behalf of the Court, I thank him very much for his leadership and mentorship.

3. To enhance public awareness and understanding of the Court and its role:

Public outreach

We all have a responsibility to build public confidence in the justice system. The Court will continue to work with the Ontario Justice Education Network in programs such as Courtrooms & Classrooms and mock trials.

Together with the Court of Appeal and the Superior Court, we have participated in hundreds of such events across the province over the past year.

Over the next few years, we are looking to expand this important work.

We will increase engagement with journalism students, students in post-secondary programs and community groups.

We are also redesigning our website to make it more helpful and relevant to the public, including self-represented parties, teachers and students, and the media, while maintaining our service to the profession.

4. Our commitment to innovate and work collaboratively in carrying out our duties within the Court and with others in the justice community has inspired us in several ways.

Justice on Target

The Court continues to actively participate in the local leadership teams of the Ministry’s Justice on Target project, as well as in other local criminal court liaison committees.

All members of the justice community have a role to play in implementing effective change across the system to improve the services we provide and enhance access to justice.

Use of technology

The Court continues to work with justice community partners to increase the use of technology to enhance operations and access to justice.

One example is our video plea court pilot project in the Durham Region courthouse, where defendants who are in custody can plead guilty by video.

This saves transportation and security costs associated with moving these individuals to and from the courthouse and benefits the parties, as they avoid what can be a long day of travel and delays.

The Court is also working with the Ministry on the ambitious Court Information Management System (CIMS) to develop new technology for court scheduling.

The Court is proud of the accomplishments that have been made to date as we carry out our vision. We are committed to continuing to pursue our goals to provide assistance to all citizens.

Appointments

The Ontario Court of Justice welcomed four judges and eighteen justices of the peace to our benches this past year.

Sadly, over the last year we lost several of our colleagues who were sitting members of our Court: His Honour Paul Bentley, His Honour Richard Lajoie, His Honour Robert McCreary, His Honour Yvon Renaud and His Worship David Brown. They all served the Court and their province well, and are missed.

I would also like to take this opportunity to wish Ann Merritt a long and happy retirement. As the Assistant Deputy Attorney General, Court Services Division for the past five years, Ann has provided great support to the Court and for that, we are very grateful.

I would like to congratulate her successor, Lynne Wagner. Lynne has spent her career working in and around courts in Ontario, so she knows them from every angle.

Conclusion

The Ontario Court of Justice is the largest court in the country. It sits in more than two hundred locations throughout the province. Each community, like every case, is unique.

Our judges and justices of the peace fulfill their duties as independent and impartial officers of the law in service to the people of Ontario, and I thank them for their diligence and dedication .

They are supported by our regional senior judges and regional senior justices of the peace, who provide effective judicial administration that is responsive to the needs, challenges and interests of the province’s diverse communities. I thank them for their commitment and would also like to acknowledge and thank retiring Regional Senior Justices Judith Beaman, Robert Bigelow and Richard Humphrey, as well as Regional Senior Justices of the Peace Stewart Taylor and Jack Wiley.

Once again, particular thanks to Associate Chief Justice Peter Griffiths and Associate Chief Justice, Coordinator of Justices of the Peace John Payne whose insight and leadership I rely upon to carry out the administration of the Court.

I also wish to acknowledge the contributions of every individual who works in Ontario’s justice system, the lawyers, police, courthouse and ministry staff, victim service workers and community agency staff.

We all share a common goal: to provide justice to the people of Ontario.

We all own a piece of the system and we must continue to work together to achieve excellence. The public deserves no less.

Thank you .