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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 13, 2018

Introduction:

Lieutenant Governor, Chief Justices, Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs.

A special welcome to Attorney General Mulroney.  I look forward to working with you to furthering our common goals of serving the public through a fair and impartial justice system that is accessible yet secure.

This ceremony not only welcomes the opening of our courts for a new year, but it also recognizes the collaborative, co-operative approach our Court encourages amongst all participants in our justice system – with the goal of serving all those who come before us, in a responsive, open, modern and accessible manner.

Themes

We must continually ask ourselves two questions:  Are we delivering the best possible service to the people who come before us in the most accessible way possible? How can we improve the services we deliver?

Modernizing to adapt to a constantly changing world requires mutual support, collaboration and cooperation both within the Ontario Court of Justice and within the justice system as a whole – while always respecting our constitutional roles.

Let me provide you with a few examples of how we are working to achieve our goals.

Modernization

The Ontario Court of Justice Criminal Modernization Committee is entering its fourth year of working cooperatively to improve our criminal court processes within the context of the Supreme Court decision, R. v. Jordan.

I thank my co-chair, Deputy Attorney General Paul Boniferro, and his senior management team for their strong commitment to the work of this committee.

All have fully recognized the fact that, while no one group is responsible for delays, improving access and timely justice can only be tackled by working together on developing solutions.

To that end, I thank all the members of the Criminal Modernization Committee including senior officials drawn from the Court, the government, the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, Legal Aid

Ontario and the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police for collaborating to increase accessibility to justice, while also meeting Jordan timelines.

When people sit down and work together, positive change can and does happens.

One significant example of positive change is the Judicial Criminal Pre-trial Best Practices, which were developed collaboratively by the members of our Court and are now employed by judges across the province.

These Best Practices recognize that the judiciary must take an active leadership role in case management from the outset of criminal proceedings – and encourage others in the justice system to promote fair and timely resolution of criminal charges.

The upcoming rollout across Ontario of our electronic judicial scheduling tool is another example of a modernization initiative undertaken by our Court.

We are also updating a variety of paper-based processes and working towards making them paperless.

In addition, the current pilot initiatives at three jails in the province that permit defence counsel to meet remotely via video with clients who are in custody demonstrates how justice partners can collaboratively harness technology to make better, more productive use of court time.  This remote access initiative serves to avoid unnecessary remands and reduce delays in the courtroom.

We look forward to the expansion of this initiative into other locations across the province.

And, our work is not done in terms of modernization.

I look forward to collaborating with the Ministry and the other members of the Committee to increase accessibility to timely justice and meet the needs of diverse communities.

Family Issues

Turning now to Family Court issues, our Court is working with the Superior Court and the provincial and federal governments to prepare for the anticipated expansion of the UFC in the spring of 2019 in eight court sites across the province.

We are beginning the planning for the anticipated second phase of UFC expansion and that too will be a collaborative effort.

New Courthouses

Our Court has an incredible opportunity to modernize our justice system with the building of two new courthouses – one in Toronto, the other in Halton.

In relation to the new Toronto courthouse, a broad cross section of court users, including the bar, court services, the Toronto Police Service, Ontario Provincial Police and the RCMP, are actively engaged in planning for the new Ontario Court of Justice courthouse and the surrounding environs.

Led by members of the judiciary, Toronto’s Director of Court Operations and the police services, these groups have invested many, many hours in advancing this critical and necessary project, ensuring the new courthouse will be a secure, modern, and accessible facility that will meet the needs of the public.

This courthouse will address the critical pressures that the Jordan decision has placed on our Toronto Criminal Courts.

I thank the bar, users of the courthouse, the Toronto Police Service, OPP, RCMP, Court Services Division, and Facilities Management officials for their ongoing work to make this important and necessary new courthouse a secure, state-of-the-art facility.

I especially thank the Ministry of the Attorney General for the continuing support we have received for the Toronto Courthouse and the Halton Courthouse.

Administrative Issues

Change has been significant and continuous on the administrative front of the Court.

We have continued to make strides in measuring the Court’s progress and, in turn, we are proud that we are increasing access to court information and statistics on the internet for public consumption.

Assembling and publicizing this information is essential to making the justice system more open, transparent and accountable to all Ontarians.

Since I spoke to you last year, our Court has seen tremendous turnover in our judicial officers – with 27 new judges and 17 new justices of the peace joining our benches.

I would like to recognize the important contributions of both the Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee and the Justice of the Peace Appointments Advisory Committee – and to thank each one of its members for their dedication and commitment.

This influx of new appointments has meant an increased workload for our administrative judges and justices of the peace, including our Regional Senior Judges and Justices of the Peace and our Local Administrative Judges and Justices of the Peace.

This past year has been a time of transition for our Court’s administrative table.

I am pleased to welcome Regional Senior Justice Esther Rosenberg as the new Regional Senior Justice in the Central East Region, replacing Justice Simon Armstrong.  I thank Justice Armstrong for his years of service to the Court.

At this time, I also wish to thank Regional Senior Justice Stephen Fuerth of the West Region, Regional Senior Justice Sharon Nicklas of the Central West Region, Senior Advisory Family

Judge Wendy Malcolm and Regional Senior Justice of the Peace Warren Ralph of the Toronto Region for their devoted service.  This will be the final time they attend the Opening of Courts ceremony in their current roles.

In the Central West Region, Justice of the Peace Brett Kelly left his office as Regional Senior Justice of the Peace and our Court welcomes his replacement, Regional Senior Justice of the Peace Marsha Farnand.

Our Court extends its thanks to Justice of the Peace Marcel Donio who worked tirelessly for many years as the Senior Indigenous Justice of the Peace.  We welcome our new Senior Indigenous Justice of the Peace Wendy Agnew.

This will be the final Opening of Courts Senior Justice of the Peace Kathy Lou Johnson will attend in that role. Senior Justice of the Peace Johnson has successfully led the mentoring and initial education programs our Court offers to all newly appointed justices of the peace for nearly six years. Thank you for your many contributions.

Finally, I have one very special acknowledgement.

Although her term is not completed until September 2019, this is the final Opening of Courts that Faith Finnestad will attend in her role as Associate Chief Justice-Coordinator of the Justices of the Peace.

The position she has occupied for close to six years is one that is daunting in its scope and importance to the Court.  Faith has provided a strong, innovative and thoughtful voice, advocating on behalf of the judicial officers on both benches of our Court.  She occupied influential roles on our Court’s administrative tables, including Regional Senior Justice Council and Regional Senior Justice of the Peace Council.  In addition, she effectively managed our Court’s per diem program.

Faith has travelled across the province many times performing the varied duties that make up her role.

Faith – thank you for your service to the Ontario Court of Justice.

In Memoriam

Before I conclude, allow me to take a moment to remember two members of our bench who passed away this past year and who were both great contributors to our Court.

Paul French brought a breadth of experience and ability to his work as a judge and judicial educator.

Ted Andrews’ career with our Court was both long and illustrious, and included 22 years as the Chief Judge of the Provincial Court (Family Division).  So much of what Ted Andrews accomplished – particularly his passion for family law and for a caring and compassionate approach to children and families in crisis – resonates throughout our Court today.

Conclusion

Support for the justice system – combined with a commitment to ensuring we are meeting the needs of the public across this province – is continuously and consistently provided by our judges and justices of the peace.

They serve the public fairly, impartially and with respect for those before them and the laws they apply.

I thank them for their dedication.

But – we could not function as a Court without the devoted support of and the continued collaboration with the members of the bar, Court Services Division, Legal Aid Ontario, police, service providers in family, criminal and provincial offences practice areas, and the many, many others who contribute to the effective delivery of justice services in this province – often in challenging circumstances.

I close as I began – optimistically welcoming a new year.