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2012 Opening of the Courts Speech

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September 12, 2012

Your Honour, Chief Justices, —I join Chief Justice Winkler and Chief Justice Smith in welcoming you and all guests to this afternoon’s ceremony.

The 728 judges and justices of the peace of the Ontario Court of Justice preside in close to 200 locations across the province. Over the last year, the OCJ received approximately 570,000 new criminal charges; over 2 million provincial offences and highway traffic charges, and heard from over 25,000 families in crisis.

In short, it has been a busy and productive year. Our accomplishments reflect the ongoing efforts of the judiciary of our Court. It also reflects the court staff who work so diligently—day in and day out—across the province. To each of you—please accept my heartfelt thanks for your ongoing professionalism and commitment.

Particular thanks goes to Assistant Deputy Attorney General Lynne Wagner for her excellent leadership of the Court Services Division. At this time, I wish to also recognize the former Deputy Attorney General, Murray Segal, for his years of service to the justice sector, and for the special attention he paid to the Ontario Court of Justice during his tenure. His constant support and enthusiasm made a valuable contribution to our Court.

On behalf of the Ontario Court of Justice, I offer Associate Chief Justice Douglas Cunningham all the best in his new endeavours and thank him for his ongoing collaboration with our Court.

On this occasion, the Ontario Court of Justice also welcomes our newest regional senior judge, Justice Martin Lambert of the Northeast Region, who replaces Justice Richard Humphrey. Justice Humphrey was a longstanding contributor to our regional executive committee.

I am also pleased to announce that His Worship Marcel Donio has been appointed as the new Senior Justice of the Peace/Administrator of the Ontario Native Justice of the Peace Program. Marcel replaces His Worship Richard Le Sarge.

Sadly, within the past year, we mourned the loss of His Worship Cesar DeMorais, Her Worship Trillis Miller, and Her Worship Philomen Wright. They served the Court and their province well and will be missed.

The Ontario Court of Justice is committed to modernization and to working collaboratively with the Ministry, and other justice sector partners, to update the way we deliver our services. As society evolves – so too must our courts! Whether in family, criminal, youth or provincial offences matters, our Court always seeks opportunities to provide more innovative and accessible service delivery options. With that commitment to modernization in mind, I am pleased to inform you of some recent progress the Court has made, and some of our goals for the coming year.

The new Criminal Rules came into effect on July 1st. They are brief, written in plain language, and contain extensive commentary regarding their interpretation and application. They reflect the reality that many accused persons appearing before our courts are unrepresented and require a clearer understanding of the process in which they are participating.

From bail hearings, to witness testimony, to pre-trials—judges and justices of the peace are using video and telephones for remote appearances. Notwithstanding modern methods of delivery, the Court continues to be committed to making each appearance before the Court meaningful. Our active involvement in Justice on Target in collaboration with others in the justice community is bringing modern approaches to court processes. To this end, the Court has engaged with local justice communities to create more specialized courts and to expand the number of courts that can provide augmented resources to vulnerable accused who are aboriginal or struggling with mental health or addiction issues.

The Integrated Domestic Violence Court has now completed its first full year. This specialized court is designed to make the system easier and faster for families. It also increases consistency between related family and criminal court orders where the underlying issue is domestic violence. Our goal is to expand the jurisdiction of this innovative court in 2013 to include some child protection matters.

The winds of change also touched upon our northern fly-in courts. To meet the profound needs of our remote communities in relation to criminal and family law services and to take advantage of the availability of new technologies, the Court and the Ministry have created a Joint Fly-In Court Working Group. We look forward to the recommendations of this committee in the coming months and the resulting improvement to accessible justice in the North.

The Court is also continuing to modernize the way we communicate and reach out to the public. Over the past year, we have developed new procedural guides for unrepresented litigants using our family, criminal and provincial offences courts. Our website has been updated, and the content enhanced to more widely open our “virtual doors” to the public. Additionally, through our community outreach program, judges and justices of the peace of our Court have visited with thousands of students across the province to talk about the justice system and the role of the judiciary.

Yet, as I noted previously – modernization also means finding new ways of meeting the demands of the communities we serve. Tragic events involving our youth this summer underscore the need for all of us to focus on understanding and addressing the roots of the needless violence among our youth.

Violence involving youth as victims, or perpetrators, is a complex issue demanding a multi-pronged response. The youth that reach our courts often require the support of a wide range of resources. Depending on the individual, young people often need help from therapists, psychiatrists, teachers, community workers, child welfare agencies, doctors, lawyers, mentors and/or employers. In many instances, these youth need to complete their high school education and be supported in other practical ways to find and retain meaningful work.

There are already a number of important organizations that promote meaningful consequences for youth who confront the law. These organizations are not the only answer, but are very often effective in preventing re-offending by many. As noted in the Roots of Youth Violence Report prepared by the former Chief Justice of Ontario, Roy McMurtry, there are numerous, well-documented ways in which we can further support youth to make better life choices. By all accounts, these organizations, however, need real, ongoing, and coordinated funding to build an effective intervention system for troubled youth.

Our Court is but one piece of the province’s justice system. It is no secret to those of us who work in this sector that progress can only be accomplished when we work collaboratively, respectfully and with the best interest of the public we serve in mind. The Ontario Court of Justice remains committed to taking a leadership role in promoting this approach and to achieving meaningful, sustainable change.

Thank you.

Annemarie E. Bonkalo
Chief Justice