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2015 Opening of the Courts Speech

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Chief Justice Lise Maisonneuve
Ontario Court of Justice
September 24, 2015

Greetings and Introductions

Lieutenant Governor Dowdeswell, Chief Justices.

I join Chief Justice Strathy and Chief Justice Smith in welcoming you and all guests to today’s ceremony.  Thank you for attending.

It is a true privilege to speak to you today in my role as Chief Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice.

Chief Justice Strathy and Chief Justice Smith, thank you for graciously welcoming me.  I look forward to working with both of you, and together with the members of your Courts.

This ceremony is an occasion to celebrate the progress our courts have made in the past year, while recognizing the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Transitions and Transformations

For the Ontario Court of Justice, this is a time of both transition and transformation.  Change has been particularly evident this past year in the administration of our Court.

I begin by acknowledging the contributions of my predecessor, Justice Annemarie Bonkalo.  Our Court made great strides forward during her tenure.

This year, we welcomed Justice Peter DeFreitas as our new Associate Chief Justice.  Both Associate Chief Justice DeFreitas and Associate Chief Justice-Coordinator of Justices of the Peace Faith Finnestad offer strong insight, support and commitment to the leadership of our Court.

We have had several other recent changes in our administration.

Two new Regional Senior Judges joined our ranks.  In the Northwest Region, we welcomed Regional Senior Justice Joyce Elder and, in the Northeast Region, Regional Senior Justice Patrick Boucher.

Senior Advisory Justice of the Peace Bernard Swords, Regional Senior Justice of the Peace Brett Kelly in the Central West Region and Regional Senior Justice of the Peace Thomas Stinson in the West region have also been recently appointed.

At this time, I would like to acknowledge Justice of the Peace John Balkwill who passed away this year.  I would also like to offer our condolences on the passing of Justice Marc Rosenberg.  Through his generous work in judicial education, he demonstrated a deep respect to our Court.  He was a great friend of ours and we will miss him.

Daily, our judges and justices of the peace deliver impartial justice to the thousands of people who come before them in more than 200 locations across the province.  Our Court is especially fortunate to be supported by a group of talented and dedicated women and men and I thank them for treating those who appear in their courts fairly, impartially and with respect.

The judiciary could not do its work without the professionalism and hard work of the people of Court Services Division, members of the bar, the police and other service providers in the family, criminal  and provincial offences practice areas.  Day in, day out – you are here for us – solidly supporting a fair justice system.

Attorney General Meilleur and Deputy Attorney General Monahan have also been highly supportive of the work of our Court and its officials.  While the judiciary and the government have distinct roles and differing perspectives, we are all pursuing the same goals of justice and service to the people of the province.

There is one person I would like to especially acknowledge today.  Assistant Deputy Attorney General Lynne Wagner has announced her retirement.  Lynne, you have championed important initiatives for our Court.  You are the ideal public servant.  You know every corner of our “business” processes.  The justice system has benefitted from your candour, your professionalism and your thoughtful approach to your work.  Thank you for your contributions.

Our Court’s Commitment to Change

As I mentioned at the outset, this is a time of transition and transformation for our Court.  We have identified, and will continue to identify, innovation and modernization as hallmarks of our judicial leadership.

Last year at this ceremony, Chief Justice Strathy called on “every court, every court office, and every person responsible for the administration of justice to consider how their practice and procedures can be simplified, streamlined and made more user-friendly.”  Our Court is fully committed to undertaking that transformation.  And, I am proud to report, we have taken up the Chief Justice’s challenge.

We are realists.  We have a distinct perspective, as the busiest court in Canada.  We have long recognized that to be accountable to all Ontarians, our Court must not only continue to provide fair and timely decision-making, but we must also be committed to change.  That said, we also understand that our province is entering a time of fiscal restraint.  Our Court is committed to working creatively with government to help address the financial realities it faces – while remaining steadfastly loyal to our core values of accessibility and fairness.

We look to the upcoming year’s initiatives with great anticipation.  Whether it be – for example – effective criminal court case management, electronic trial scheduling, or streamlining processes for families in crisis, we are eager to move forward.  And, of course, as with our previous achievements, we do not see our future work as an exercise that we can undertake on our own.  Our Court is committed to achieving necessary change through collaboration and consultation with others across the justice sector.

The Attorney General’s Justice Roundtable

The accessibility of the justice system has not only been a major concern for us, but also for the Attorney General.  We appreciate her understanding of the difficulties our litigants – many unrepresented – struggle with on a daily basis.  We welcome the Attorney General’s invitation to join her “Justice Roundtable” and contribute to the improvements she seeks to family and criminal court processes, such as mental health reforms and other important initiatives.

Legal Aid Initiatives

Our Court has been pleased with the recent initiatives Legal Aid Ontario has brought forward in family and criminal law service delivery.

We welcome further discussions on issues of mutual concern, such as better supporting litigants facing domestic violence, judicial case management, Gladue submissions, and the effective provision of services to First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. Consultation and collaboration are the key ingredients to meaningful systemic reform.  We are strongest when we work together.

Modernizing Our Court’s Processes

I would like now to turn to an important initiative for the Ontario Court of Justice.  That is “modernization.”  I know this term is tossed about quite freely these days and I’d like to spend a moment sharing what modernization means to our Court.

Modernizing our Court’s processes is linked to providing timely, effective justice – and better serving the public.  The way we use technology is one critical aspect of improving how we do our work.  Procedural reform in criminal, family, child protection and young offender cases is another.

Electronic scheduling tools for both our judges and justices of the peace are a signature step to making our court processes more standardized, streamlined and user friendly.  Working with Ministry staff, trial coordinators, technology experts and our judiciary has meant that court-wide replacement for a multitude of scheduling tools – including the old-fashioned paper-based systems – is really here! The view is looking positive:  our e-scheduling tools will allow us to better assign our resources, and, thus, more effectively manage the many proceedings in our Court.

In the criminal law realm, we have just announced a cross-sector committee of senior officials drawn from the Court, the government, the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, Legal Aid Ontario and the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police. Modernization of the Ontario Court of Justice will be the focus of this committee.

Our approach will be collaborative.  Our priorities will be shared.  Simplifying the Court’s processes and providing practical operational solutions to better serve the public are our goals.

Examples of our early initiatives include:

  • Effective and timely intake and release practices, and meaningful remand appearances,
  • Effective pretrial and trial management, and meaningful and timely court appearances, and
  • Streamlined and timely processes for in-custody accused, such as better access for defence counsel to in-custody clients and remote appearances.

In the area of family law, our work with Community Legal Education Ontario and the Superior Court of Justice on the “Shared Steps” website continues.  We anticipate that the “one-stop” user-friendly informational website will greatly benefit family law litigants.  We look forward to its debut.

Conclusion

This brings me full circle to my introductory comments about the importance of consultation and collaboration.

Working effectively with others – while each respecting the others’ roles and always maintaining our Court’s judicial independence – is a fine line to walk.

Our approach of working collaboratively gives our Court the ability to transform the challenges we face into opportunities.  We will use those opportunities to reinforce our commitment to meeting the needs of the litigants we serve by providing fair and timely decision-making.

I thank you all for coming to this ceremony.  Thank you.