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Opening of the Courts

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Remarks of Chief Justice Lise Maisonneuve
Ontario Court of Justice
Opening of the Courts
Toronto, September 10, 2019

Chief Justices.

The Opening of Courts ceremony offers us the opportunity to celebrate the progress we have made – and will continue to make – working collaboratively with all participants in the justice system.

The fact that all three courts are represented here today on the dais by Chief Justice Strathy, Associate Chief Justice Marrocco and myself, demonstrates the strong commitment and common goal we share to constantly improve the delivery of justice to the people of this province.

I extend my thanks to Chief Justice Strathy for his leadership. I welcome the new Chief Justice of the Superior Court, Geoffrey Morawetz, and congratulate him on his new role. Our courts share many issues and I look forward to working together with him to ensure we reach our common goals.

I wish to acknowledge and thank Associate Chief Justice Frank Marrocco, I understand this will be the final Opening of Court ceremony he will attend as Associate Chief of the Superior Court of Justice and I congratulate him on his long and productive tenure in that position.

Thank you to the Honourable Heather Smith for her many contributions to the justice system in Ontario during her long tenure as Chief Justice of the Superior Court.

Welcome to our new Attorney General, Douglas Downey. I also wish to thank the former Attorney General, Caroline Mulroney.

The Opening of Courts ceremony also provides us with a time to reflect upon the roles and responsibilities of our respective institutions in promoting fair and accessible justice to all.

Our Court’s ability to provide impartial justice to those who come before us rests squarely on the foundation of judicial independence.

Judicial independence is a multi-faceted concept, but its purpose is both simple and clear. It protects the public we serve by ensuring that our judges and justices of the peace make – and are seen to make – fair and impartial decisions.

Judicial independence ensures that the people of Ontario have confidence in the decisions made by our Court.  This underpins the rule of law and our democratic system.

Let me outline a few of the key aspects of the structure supporting the independence of the Ontario Court of Justice.

First, there’s our excellent appointment processes – the Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee and the Justices of the Peace Appointments Advisory Committee.  The sterling quality of the members of our Court reflects the important work of these two committees.  At this time, I would like to recognize the significant contributions of both – and to thank each one of the members for their dedication and commitment.

Second, our Court’s strong administrative structure gives me, as the Chief Justice, the financial resources and independence to run the courts effectively and accountably.  As Chief Justice, I am responsible for supervising and directing the sittings of the Court and the assignment of judicial duties.  This administrative autonomy means I am accountable to the public for the scheduling and management of all cases that come to our Court.

The duties of my Office extend to the design and development of the education programs delivered to our judges and justices of the peace.  Our commitment to education is described in two publicly available documents:  the Justice of the Peace Education Plan and the Continuing Education Plan for our judges.

In terms of maintaining the professional competence of our judicial officers with education that is balanced, current and enhances social and cultural awareness, the programming our Court delivers is considered amongst the most comprehensive and effective in Canada.

Judicial independence does not, however, mean that our Court works in isolation.

Always respecting the division of roles and responsibilities amongst the members of the justice system, collaboration with all stakeholders is essential to ensure timely, fair, and accessible justice for those who come before us.

A fine example of that collaboration amongst the Ontario Court of Justice, the Superior Court of Justice and the provincial and federal governments is the recent expansion of Unified Family Court.  Thank you to all involved for your cooperation on a challenging and important initiative.  We are now looking forward to reconvening to finalize the expansion of the Unified Family Court across the remainder of the province.

Another good example of the benefits that come from collaboration are the initiatives of the Ontario Court of Justice Criminal Modernization Committee, which I co-chair with the Deputy Attorney General, Paul Boniferro.  This Committee is now entering its fifth successful year of working co-operatively to improve court processes, focusing on the interrelationship between access to justice and the need to modernize key aspects of our criminal justice system. Working together, positive change can and does happen.  I thank the Deputy Attorney General and all the other members of the Committee for their positive contributions to the development of effective and practical modernization initiatives.

As the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Richard Wagner, has said “Access to justice can mean many things.”  It means having courts resolve problems in a timely fashion.  But, as Chief Justice Wagner explained, it also means having the financial ability to get legal assistance when needed.  And, while access to justice first and foremost affects the individual who needs legal guidance, a lack of access to assistance can also create a serious problem for democracy by weakening public confidence in the justice system.

An effective, accessible justice system depends on a robust legal aid program.

Our Court has worked diligently to encourage meaningful appearances in both our criminal and family case management courts.  The unintended consequences to the reduced Legal Aid funding causes us concern.  In criminal courts, for example, the reductions in duty counsel services may well result in an increase in appearances in our case management courts, causing delays and, possibly, more trials.  In our family courts, reduction in the number of case conferences has already had the unfortunate consequence of increasing matters set for trial, resolution delay and more conflict in already difficult proceedings involving families and children.

We understand that we are currently in a challenging fiscal climate, but we also recognize that a healthy, modern justice system ensures access to representation for those who cannot otherwise afford it.

We look forward to working collaboratively with everyone to find a solution.

Given the many issues we are currently dealing with, I am very fortunate to be supported by a fine team:

  1. I begin by thanking Associate Chief Justice Peter DeFreitas for his support and many contributions this past year.
  2. Associate Chief Justice, Coordinator of the Justices of the Peace Sharon Nicklas joined us this month and we very much look forward to working together with her.

In terms of new appointments to administrative positions, I welcome:

  1. Senior Advisory Family Judge Lise Parent
  2. Regional Senior Justice of the Peace Lauren Scully will become our new Senior Advisory Justice of the Peace this November, as Senior Advisory Justice of the Peace Bernie Swords comes to the end of his term.
  3. I welcome two new Regional Senior Judges: Paul Currie in Central West and Jeanine LeRoy in the West.  Thank you to ACJ Nicklas and Justice Stephen Fuerth for their commitment during their tenure in those roles.
  4. We welcome two new Regional Senior Justices of the Peace: Melanie Bremner in Toronto and Martha DeGannes in Central East.  A warm welcome to both.
  5. I also wish to extend a special thank you to the very capable and competent staff at the Office of the Chief Justice, led by Lori Newton, the Court’s Executive Legal Officer.

This past year was a busy one for our Court – and I have many others to thank for the progress we have made and for the initiatives that lie ahead.

We could not do our work without the efforts of members of the bar, Court Services Division, Legal Aid Ontario, police services across the province, and the many service providers in family, criminal and provincial offences practice areas.  Thank you all.

  1. To the judges and justices of the peace who make up our Court, I conclude by thanking all of you for ensuring that justice is done in our province – and for treating those who come through the doors of our courtrooms with empathy, courtesy, fairness and respect.