1990-1999 Profiles & Stories

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Sidney B. Linden: The Institution Builder

“He’s like an architect. But instead of buildings, he builds institutions.” That was Cary Linden, the architect son of Sidney Bryan Linden, speaking about his father. Sidney Linden has a vast portfolio of institutions he’s created, fostered, revived or transformed during his long career in the law. Building is the one constant of his life’s work.

“The founder of the modern Ontario Court of Justice.” That’s the title bestowed on Linden by his successor as Chief Justice, Brian W. Lennox. Linden entered the Court at a transitional time, appointed to the Provincial Court (Criminal Division) in April 1990. From the beginning of his tenure as Chief Judge, Linden took full advantage of the connections he had built over the years within government and the legal community. He drew upon the talents and abilities of the judges and justices of the peace of the Court and used the skills he had honed as an administrator to transform the Court. When he left the Court in 1999 as Chief Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice, it was a changed institution – in more than name alone.

That change, however, did not come easily. In the early years of Linden’s tenure as Chief Judge, there were many opponents to the foundation he had chosen to build in order to support the new Court.

Early Years

“Cooking up schemes” – Sidney Linden (right) with his older brother, Allen, in Toronto in the early 1950s. (Courtesy: S. Linden).

“Cooking up schemes” – Sidney Linden (right) with his older brother, Allen, in Toronto in the early 1950s. (Courtesy: S. Linden).

As a child, growing up in downtown Toronto, Linden and his older brother, Allen, were always cooking up schemes. “We were constantly planning something, constantly doing something. We were street kids,” he recalled. “We never let the absence of money interfere with whatever it was we wanted to do.“ At one point, the brothers made paper flowers and then took to the streets to sell them. They’d cut grass, shovel snow – and use that pocket money to ride the streetcar to the Sunnyside swimming pool or to the Humber River to canoe.[1]

Linden, born in Toronto in 1938, as Canada was emerging from the Great Depression, was the child of Jewish immigrants from Poland. His father was a tailor, his mother sold women’s clothing. The middle child of the family (he has a younger sister, Sandra), Linden regarded Allen – four years older – as his mentor. A brilliant student, Allen, who started his career as an Osgoode Hall law professor and finished as a judge of the Federal Court of Appeal, always encouraged his younger brother. They stuck close together.

As Linden told it, he didn’t see himself as an academic like Allen, rather he had his own gifts – specifically, athleticism, determination, energy and an abundance of curiosity.
That athleticism, combined with determination, put him centre stage early in life – the stage at the Canadian National Exhibition. Determined to win a bicycle which his family could not afford to buy him, young Linden taught himself how to yo-yo with one goal in mind – to become the City of Toronto champion. The competition took place at the CNE bandstand and Linden left with the title and a bike. The next year, he was back at the CNE – this time with a bolo bat – and he won another championship and another bike.

In high school, his athletic skills took him to the basketball court. He captained his high school basketball team, leading the squad to a City of Toronto championship in 1955. He subsequently became a referee and these skills transformed into a lifelong love of the game, together with a source of much-needed funds used to pay for his university tuition.

Linden’s love of basketball began early and has continued throughout his career. Here he is in his role as Information and Privacy Commissioner in 1988, shooting hoops in his office. (Source: “Topical,” Human Resources Secretariat, 20/7 April 8, 1988, p.1.)

Linden’s love of basketball began early and has continued throughout his career. Here he is in his role as Information and Privacy Commissioner in 1988, shooting hoops in his office. (Source: “Topical,” Human Resources Secretariat, 20/7 April 8, 1988, p.1.)

While Linden was still in high school, Allen, who was then studying at University of Toronto, started taking his younger brother to Hart House, the student centre of that university. “When I was in grade 11 or 12, Allen would drag me along with him, so I would get introduced to Hart House. By the time I became a student at UofT – I started studying political science at University College in 1957, then went to law school there – Hart House had become a very important part of my life. I would say that I spent more time in Hart House than anywhere else. I practically lived there. The only thing I didn’t do was sleep there. Hart House was a dream come true for me.”

At university, Linden’s curiosity and energy were at the fore. He’d discovered the reading room at Hart House. He picked books at random, reading whatever came into his hands. That experiment “exploded my mind,” he recalled. He attended all manner of debates and lectures there – including one by John F. Kennedy. But, there was never quite enough money. He was always carrying two, three or four jobs during his late high school and university years – driving trucks for a butcher and the Canadian National Railroad, taking tickets at the Canadian National Exhibition, working in a liquor store, the post office and factories, serving in a restaurant as a “fountain boy,” and refereeing basketball games across Toronto.

In the summer of 1960, he was the water ski instructor at Camp New Moon, a children’s camp – and that turned out to be a fruitful position. Beverley Hirschberg was also working at that camp that summer. They have never been apart since, marrying in 1963 when Bev graduated as a nurse and began her career. Linden was in his final year of law school, graduating in 1964.

A Legal Education

Linden decided to attend University of Toronto’s Law School on the practical advice of his brother, Allen.  Osgoode Hall Law School, also in Toronto, was the younger Linden’s only other choice because he couldn’t afford to live away from home.  “I couldn’t decide where to go,” he said.  Allen had just started teaching at Osgoode after finishing graduate school at Berkeley in California.  “Allen said to me: ‘If you go to UofT, you’ll have Caesar Wright and Bora Laskin, the giants of the profession.  If you come to Osgoode, you’ll have me.  So, where will you go?’”

A Mixed Bag: Early Years Practising Law

Linden loved the intellectual stimulation of law school but graduated with no firm sense of what area of the law to pursue.  That uncertainty served him well, as he spent the next few years knocking about the profession, meeting some of the great personalities of the Canadian legal world along the way – and being exposed to narrow legal issues and greater societal ones.

A couple of examples of such interactions are particularly notable.

First, a UofT colleague told him about an articling position with a particularly challenging lawyer.  That lawyer was Willard Estey, who achieved subsequent fame as a Supreme Court of Canada judge.  Linden ended up articling for Estey and landed a role on a labour arbitration involving strikes by typesetters and lithographers, who were being pushed out of their jobs by new technologies.  Linden found himself working with several counsel, representing other parties, in the arbitration.  David Lewis was soon to be leader of the New Democrats. Ian Scott was headed to become a Liberal politician and the Attorney General of Ontario – and set to become an influential force in Linden’s future career.  Estey taught Linden important lessons about working professionally and collegially – he encouraged Linden to share his research work with both Lewis and Scott and to respect the intelligence of others, despite the differences in political leanings and backgrounds.

A second example involved a passion for art shared by Linden and his wife.  Linden’s first position as a full-fledged lawyer was in a corporate law firm.  He was finally making a good salary but he hated the work.  “Almost within hours after showing up for my first day, I knew that I had made a mistake,” he recalled.  He had, however, an experience at a local art gallery that served to bring his legal career and personal principles into sharp focus.

In May 1965, he and his wife were at the Dorothy Cameron Gallery for an exhibition opening – both were interested in Toronto’s art scene in those days. The paintings on exhibit were abstract but clearly of nude forms. During the opening, the gallery was raided by police and some of the paintings were carted away. Linden was appalled by the experience and the approach the police had taken.  Cameron was charged – and later convicted – of exhibiting obscene works in her gallery.

In 1975, MacLean’s magazine profiled 14 lawyers considered the best in Ontario – Linden was one of the “Legal Eagles.” (Source: “Legal Eagles: It’s Like Having God in Your Corner,” MacLean’s magazine, June 1975.)

In 1975, MacLean’s magazine profiled 14 lawyers considered the best in Ontario – Linden was one of the “Legal Eagles.” (Source: “Legal Eagles: It’s Like Having God in Your Corner,” MacLean’s magazine, June 1975.)

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) acted on Cameron’s appeals from her conviction in the Magistrates’ Court.[2] Linden learned the CCLA was looking for a full-time counsel.  By 1966, Linden was running the organization, fund-raising, and managing a small staff and dealing with lawyers who were representing the CCLA in various cases – and learning that he liked the administrative elements of the position almost as much as the legal ones.  He began teaching himself how to manage and administer organizations.  Not able to afford further studies, he started buying and reading texts on business skills – keen to learn how to build an institution from the ground up.

The Move into Criminal Law

Long on principles, the CCLA was always short of funds. To supplement his income, Linden started building his own criminal law practice in 1967. This was before the introduction of Ontario’s Legal Aid Program and Linden found it a challenge to make a living, despite appearing in all levels of court and representing people accused of every type of criminal offence, including the defence of several people charged with murder.

When the Legal Aid Program was introduced in Ontario in 1967, Linden found it nearly unbelievable:  “We were doing all this work for nothing, and suddenly we were going to get paid for it.  I was making enough money to pay my bills and keep myself going, and I was getting increasingly more significant criminal work to do.”  He has only praise for the introduction of legal aid:  “Prior to legal aid, there were only a few people who could make a living doing criminal work.  But as legal aid became more entrenched, more and more young lawyers started doing it.  The result over the years has been the development of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association and a healthy criminal bar, which I think is a good thing for not only the legal community but for society generally.”

During the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, Linden was becoming more engaged in serving on organizations devoted to changing the way law was practised in Ontario. He served as a founding member of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association. He was the criminal lawyers’ representative on the Legal Aid Committee of the Law Society. In 1977, he was the Chair of the “Delivery of Legal Services” subcommittee, which recommended major reforms to the Legal Aid Plan, most of which were subsequently implemented, including the establishment of a salaried Duty Counsel Office and the introduction of a research facility to support criminal lawyers. He was a contributing editor and writing columns for Maclean’s magazine on justice issues. He also developed an educational television series entitled “The Law and Where It’s At” for TVOntario.

A New Venue: Labour Arbitration

At the same time, he was coming to a stark realization about his criminal law practice – to become a pre-eminent practitioner, he knew he would have to invest all of his time in his work, sacrificing his home life. By the mid-1970s, with three young sons at home, he started to “look around.” Again, his brother figured into what came next.

Allen had recommended him to John Munro, who was then federal Minister of Labour in the Trudeau government.  Through his work for Munro, Linden built connections in the labour law world and launched a new career as an arbitrator, acting as chair on a variety of boards of arbitration throughout the province, including various public sector disputes such as hospital and education matters, as well as traditional collective agreement labour disputes. He saw this work as an excellent personal learning experience: “I was always listening to management and employees discuss how workplaces were organized – and I learned so much about management techniques and how to operate a well-run organization. I took all of this information into my subsequent positions. When I look back, I see this was my self-taught MBA program.”

A New Role – Public Complaints Commissioner

All of these activities brought Linden to the attention of Roy McMurtry, then Ontario’s Attorney General.  As Linden recalled: “In 1978, McMurtry phoned me out of the blue and asked to see me.  I went to his office and the first thing he asked me was: ‘How old are you?’  I thought that was a kind of funny question, for starters.  Because I had no idea why I was there.”  Linden – who was then 40 years old – soon learned that McMurtry wanted him to research the way in which police complaints were handled.

Tor Star_Blatchford article

Linden’s appointment as Metro Toronto’s “first ever Police Complaints Commissioner” was big news in 1981. (Source: Christie Blatchford, “Sid the ‘softy’ is talking tough,” Toronto Star, November 17, 1981, p. A10.)

During the late 1970s, there had been a number of incidents in which people were brutally mistreated or even shot by police during arrests.  Communities were outraged that no system involving civilian oversight was in place to investigate these incidents.  McMurtry wanted to do something about the situation.  Enter Linden, who was appointed “Special Counsel.”  Linden set off – travelling from the F.B.I. in Washington to Scotland Yard in London – researching and proposing a system to hear these complaints.  He crafted a proposal for an agency that would be independent of police and composed of civilians.  It would have a commissioner and a board to support it.  McMurtry liked what he saw, and promptly appointed Linden to serve in 1981– in a pilot project – as the first Public Complaints Commissioner for Metropolitan Toronto and Chairman of the Police Complaints Board.[3]

“When they announced that it was beginning, we didn’t even have an office.  The next day after McMurtry announced it, people were coming to my law office, wanting to make complaints about the police.”  This was a trial-by-fire, learning period for Linden.  Not only was he building an organization from the ground up, the entire project was surrounded by controversy, with an overarching concern that the agency would not be truly independent of either the police or the government.  Linden learned how to build a credible, independent organization – one that was trusted and accountable.  The first lessons – hire good people, train them well and institute solid, fair, open, and reliable procedures

Throwing Linden into the “Deep End” as First Public Complaints Commissioner

Attorney General Roy McMurty (right) with Public Complaints Commissioner Sidney Linden. (Courtesy: S. Linden.)

Attorney General Roy McMurty (right) with Public Complaints Commissioner Sidney Linden. (Courtesy: S. Linden.)

In his memoir, former Attorney General Roy McMurtry recounted the establishment of the Public Complaints Commission and the naming of Sidney Linden as its first Commissioner:

In the spring of 1981, I introduced the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force Complaints Project Act, which passed into law later in the year….The legislation was controversial in many quarters.  Some community groups did not think it went far enough in civilian involvement, while most law-enforcement leaders felt that the new system went too far with respect to civilian oversight and that it would hinder their ability to perform police responsibilities. 

I appointed Sidney Linden to the position of complaints commissioner, but, unfortunately, there were delays in the passage of the legislation.  Linden was thrown into the “deep end” without an adequate infrastructure, but he persevered and, ultimately, his intelligence and commitment produced impressive early reports.  The changes he recommended to many police procedures were accepted…. 

McMurtry recalled that the work that Linden produced in developing the complaints process was used as a model in jurisdictions around the world.

(Source:  Roy McMurtry, Memoirs and Reflections, (Toronto:  The Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History by University of Toronto Press, 2013), p. 211.)

Back to the Private Sector with the Canadian Auto Workers

Linden served as Public Complaints Commissioner until 1985, until he put his labour law skills back to use, and became the first Executive Director of the Canadian Auto Workers (C.A.W.) Prepaid Legal Services Plan.  On behalf of the C.A.W. and the major auto companies (Ford, General Motors and Chrysler) he was responsible for starting up and operating the first privately funded national prepaid legal services plan in Canada.  Thirty years later, that plan continues to operate for C.A.W. members across the country.[4] His experience as an architect of legal institutions was growing.

The First Information and Privacy Commissioner in Ontario

In 1987, he was nominated by the Attorney General Ian Scott and subsequently appointed by the Ontario Legislature, as the province’s first Information and Privacy Commissioner.  As Commissioner, Linden reviewed situations where access to information had been denied by government institutions to a member of the public.  As part of those reviews, he wrote more than 100 decisions in his first years on the job, many of which continue to form an integral part of the jurisprudence in this area of the law.

Once again, he was responsible for starting up an office, and building and implementing a system.  He served as the first Commissioner until April 1990.  This was a job Linden loved:  “It had everything I wanted, the organizational, the administrative, the managerial, the adjudicative, the legal, the independence, our own budget, our own functioning,” he recalled.  During this time, Linden continued his self-study of management techniques – refining his approach to “MBWA” – management by walking around.  He was always present, always talking to whomever would chat with him, always interested in what was going on in whatever organization he was managing, always learning.

He was given extensive powers to organize the Information and Privacy Commission.  In his role as Commissioner, Linden was an independent legislative officer, accountable only to the provincial legislature and not to a deputy minister or other member of the public service.  This gave the agency significant administrative independence, which he was surprised to learn he did not possess in his next job as Chief Judge.

A Phone Call from Ian Scott: Plans for a Unified Trial Court

In November 1989, Linden received a phone call from Attorney General Ian Scott asking him to become involved in Scott’s plans for Ontario’s justice system.  Linden knew that Scott was contemplating a radical change in the structure of the courts.  In broad strokes, Scott was considering amalgamating Ontario’s many trial courts into a single court.  One of the steps in the first phase of that process was the amalgamation of the County and District Courts with the High Court of Justice to form the Ontario Court (General Division).  The judges of these courts were federally appointed.  At the same time the existing Provincial Court (Criminal Division) and the Provincial Court (Family Division) would be combined into a single court – the Ontario Court (Provincial Division).

The third of the Provincial Courts, the Provincial Court (Civil Division), was to be moved with its judges and its Small Claims Court jurisdiction to be administered as part of the Ontario Court (General Division).  Although the judges on these three Courts were all provincial appointments, the Criminal, Family and Civil Divisions of the Provincial Courts had led completely separate existences:  each had its own Chief Judge and the Courts rarely interacted.

Finally, in Scott’s vision of the first phase of court reform, responsibility for the administration of the province’s justices of the peace would be clarified and clearly brought under the purview of the new Provincial Division.  In Scott’s plan, the second phase of court reform would see the Ontario Court (General Division) and the Ontario Court (Provincial Division) amalgamate into a single trial court.

As Scott outlined it, the plan would take years to fully execute, but the first phase of the process had been introduced via the Courts of Justice Act, which was still in bill form when Scott first approached Linden in 1989.  In September 1990, when the legislation was set to be proclaimed, the two provincial courts would become one  – the Ontario Court (Provincial Division).  Scott wanted Linden to become Chief Judge of that unified court.

Word of Scott’s long-range plans had leaked out and the proposed reforms were meeting with mixed reviews and considerable opposition, both among the judges and some members of the legal community.

Attorney General Ian Scott (left) with Sidney Linden in 1990. (Courtesy: S. Linden)

Attorney General Ian Scott (left) with Sidney Linden in 1990. (Courtesy: S. Linden)

Many issues that revealed themselves during the 1980s betrayed cracks in the judicial system and strained the relationships among the Provincial Courts, its judges and the Ontario government.  The administration of the Provincial Courts was, if anything, neglected.  The Courts themselves had very little in the way of administrative structure, despite having Chief Judges and a collection of local senior judges.  Chief Judge Hayes of the Provincial Court (Criminal Division) had an executive assistant – with minimal administrative support.  There were few formal systems or processes in place to keep track of court statistics, either within the Courts or the government.  As Linden recalled when he became Chief:  “I didn’t realize how undeveloped the administrative structure was in the Court.  I was used to other organizations where there was at least some administrative structure in place.”  Add to this, everyone knew that cases were taking longer and longer to come to trial. By the late 1980s, people were coming to Provincial Court (Criminal Division) and getting trial dates set two years into the future – with very little effective administrative structure to deal with this serious issue of delay.

Because the Provincial Courts had so few systems in place, the only solution to the pending crisis was to keep asking the government for more judges.  Scott balked at this appointing ever-more judges and released data and reports indicating that the judges were working inefficiently.   The judiciary, in turn, accused the government of not respecting the principles of judicial independence.

Linden Becomes Chief Judge

idney Linden was sworn in as both Chief Judge of the Provincial Court

On June 27, 1990, Sidney Linden was sworn in as both Chief Judge of the Provincial Court (Criminal Division) and Chief Judge of the Ontario Court (Provincial Division). Here he is pictured swearing his oath of office in the presence of Lincoln M. Alexander, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. (Courtesy: S. Linden).

Into this bubbling cauldron of discontent, Sidney Linden was appointed – by Ian Scott – but only after Linden had applied to the bench and “gone through the Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee in the normal way,” he recalled.  Not surprisingly, Linden was seen as Scott’s “man,” brought in to replace Chief Judges who were deeply experienced and well-respected by their judges and justices of the peace.  Linden’s task of instituting a new system gave rise to a deep-seated suspicion amongst the profession and members of the judiciary.   At the outset of his tenure as Chief, Linden spent considerable time introducing himself to judges and lawyers.  He’d left his practice in the criminal courts years before in 1979.  As Linden told the Globe and Mail in May 1990:  “There’s a lot of lawyers who’ve been called to the bar since ’79.  There’s a lot of Crown attorneys and defence lawyers out there and I know that they’re probably saying ‘Who is this Linden guy?’”

(Source: John Beaufoy, “New Chief Judge Advises Lawyers Not to Worry,” Law Times, August 27 – September, 1990, p.11.)

(Source: John Beaufoy, “New Chief Judge Advises Lawyers Not to Worry,” Law Times, August 27 – September, 1990, p.11.)

The situation became further complicated when, five days after Linden’s appointment as Chief Judge of the Ontario Court (Provincial Division) on September 1, 1990, the Liberal government was defeated in a provincial general election.[5] Scott was no longer the Attorney General.  Forty-five days later, the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision in the case of R. v. Askov, a decision that precipitated the most serious criminal justice crisis Ontario has ever known.

This left Linden – who had never been a judge – suddenly in the position of Chief Judge of a Court which largely saw him as an outsider and Scott’s acolyte.  Many judges openly voiced their serious concern about Linden’s appointment, feeling their Court was now led by a bureaucrat rather than by an experienced judge. Further, Linden had been appointed to effect a reform that had lost its principal architect and legislative support.  Linden seriously contemplated resigning during that fall of 1990.  “There was a month or so during September and early October when it was like we were in free fall.  It was like we had fallen into a huge black hole and we had nothing to grab on to…There is no doubt that I thought seriously about moving on,” Linden admitted.

“It Started Off Frosty” 

On October 1, 1990, Howard Hampton was appointed Attorney General in the newly elected NDP provincial government and began meeting with Chief Judge Linden.

“I had a couple of dust-ups with Sid Linden,” recalled Hampton.  According to Hampton, a clash of cultures was part of the challenge:  Linden was a downtown Toronto lawyer and Hampton was a working class lawyer from Northern Ontario.

Hampton & Linden

Attorney General Howard Hampton and Chief Judge Sidney Linden in November 1990. (Courtesy: S. Linden).

“We developed a good working relationship, but it started off frosty….We talked a lot with Sid about case management.”  This meant some “tense meetings” about how judicial resources were managed – and the ways the Court was assigning and administering the time judges spent in the courtroom.

Over time, it became obvious to both Linden and Hampton that they were interested in achieving the same goals – a better-administered Provincial Court.

“To Sid’s credit, he moved mountains,” concluded Hampton.

(Source:  Interview of H. Hampton for OCJ History Project, 2014.)


(Source: Rick Haliechuk, “Justice system seeks fast track,” Toronto Star, April 25, 1991, p. 427.)

(Source: Rick Haliechuk, “Justice system seeks fast track,” Toronto Star, April 25, 1991, p. 427.)

Building an Administrative Structure to Support the Ontario Court (Provincial Division)

But Linden waited to see what the next government would do and, in the meantime, he started – tentatively – building an administrative structure.  Even that approach was seen as suspect by many of his judges.  In those days a judge was meant to judge, not muck about in judicial administration.  As Linden recalled:  “The thinking was that a judge’s mind should be on the law and that was it.”

“When I became Chief Judge in 1990, the term ‘judicial administration’ was an oxymoron,” recalled Linden. “Very early in my tenure, I learned that I was the Chief Judge in name, and that was about it. The office of Chief Judge had – really – no independent administrative powers at that time. Those powers resided at the Ministry of the Attorney General. Just after my appointment, I wanted to send a half-dozen, bilingual judges to an education program in Quebec. It was a great program – very practical stuff – and I assumed it was just a matter of informing the Ministry and off our judges would go to the program. How wrong I was. I received a call from the deputy minister himself: ‘Oh, no, no, no.  We can’t send your judges off to Quebec.  Can’t be done.  Far too extravagant. No money. We might be able to afford to send one judge.  But that’s absolutely the limit. And, by the way, this is not your decision to make.’ I hung up the phone and asked myself:  ‘Am I the Chief Judge or is the deputy minister?’ The answer was clear – at that point in time, the deputy minister was the boss.”

“Nobody Knew Him”

Justice Ted Ormston was active in the criminal judges’ association when Sidney Linden became Chief Judge.  Ormston called the appointment “the big change.”

“Nobody knew him.  It was just all of a sudden… (Linden) has had an interview and he’s appointed in 1990. And at this time, I was active in the judges’ association…I can recall Sid coming in and him saying to us, ‘I have never been a Chief Judge before, we are starting from new, what do you think my role should be?”  And everybody was hesitant because we were used to (former Chief Judge) Fred Hayes who said ‘This is the way it is…’  We decided we would trust (Linden), and started talking to him about what we thought our system should look like.  And what his responsibilities were, and what the judges’ responsibilities were, because technically we are all equal….Sid Linden was a very open and liberal man, and interested in changes, but carefully.  And he agonized, agonized about them.”

(Source:  Interview of T. Ormston for OCJ History Project, 2014; Ted Ormston, Transcript of Interview for Oral History Project, Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History, 2008.)

Linden decided to draw on his experience of being an independent legislative officer – which is what he had been as Information and Privacy Commissioner – to recast his role from a Chief Judge who was “accountable” to the deputy minister.  He knew early on that achieving administrative independence would be the key objective of his tenure as Chief. In keeping with his prior experience as an administrator, it was his firm opinion that “administrative independence” was a necessary precondition for the Court to ensure its substantive independence from government – and the only way to achieve full judicial independence.

The Introduction of the Position of “Regional Senior Judge”

One of Linden’s first tasks was to establish eight new Regional Senior Judge positions, despite the fact that he had no additional structural funding or administrative supports.  Four of the new RSJs had no experience with judicial administration and the other four functioned in a completely different context under the previous Chief Judges – and some didn’t look too kindly on Linden, the interloper.

Creation of Position of Executive Coordinator and the Chief Judge’s Executive Committee

He then turned to staffing the Office of the Chief Judge.  He created the position of Executive Coordinator – a position designed to manage the work of the Office.  He recognized the need for additional administrative supports within the structure of the Court and persuaded the Ministry of the necessity of their existence. He then proceeded to form the Regional Senior Judges into an effective management team – the Chief Judge’s Executive Committee (CJEC).  Allen Edgar, research counsel at Ontario Court of Justice, was working at the Court when Linden became Chief Judge.  He recalled the “quantum changes” that occurred in the early 1990s, pointing specifically at the creation of CJEC.  “Instead of making big decisions by himself as Chief Judge, Linden discussed issues with RSJs who were all on CJEC.  This brought more perspectives to bear on decisions and more ownership of decisions once made.”[6]

Chief Judge, Regional Senior Judges and Senior Advisors in 1990. Back row, left to right: RSJ John Evans, RSJ Raymond Walneck, RSJ Brian Lennox, RSJ Donald August. On the dais, left to right: Senior Advisor/ACJ Robert Walmsley, RSJ Mary Hogan, CJ Sidney Linden. Front row, left to right: RSJ Gerald Michel, RSJ Grant Campbell, Senior Advisor/Co-ordinator of Justices of the Peace Gerald Lapkin, RSJ Harry Momotiuk. (Courtesy: S. Linden).

Chief Judge, Regional Senior Judges and Senior Advisors in 1990. Back row, left to right: RSJ John Evans, RSJ Raymond Walneck, RSJ Brian Lennox, RSJ Donald August. On the dais, left to right: Senior Advisor/ACJ Robert Walmsley, RSJ Mary Hogan, CJ Sidney Linden. Front row, left to right: RSJ Gerald Michel, RSJ Grant Campbell, Senior Advisor/Co-ordinator of Justices of the Peace Gerald Lapkin, RSJ Harry Momotiuk. (Courtesy: S. Linden).

Linden saw CJEC – which continues to exist – as the equivalent of a board of directors, making policy decisions.  “The RSJs brought their local issues from across the province to the CJEC table.  This was where we ensured consistencies of policies across the province.  CJEC was the vehicle.  This meant that all judges knew that policies coming from the Chief’s Office were informed by solid regional input,” Linden stated.

Concerned that he didn’t have adequate skills to lead a court, Linden sought training at the U.S.-based National Center for State Courts, charged with improving judicial administration.  He then instituted an ongoing series of programs within the Court, designed to educate judges to take on leadership and other administrative roles within the Court.

“He Asked the Blunt Questions”

Lynn Norris, now the Executive Lead, Modernization, in the Court Services Division at the Ministry of the Attorney General, was a young policy analyst at the Ministry of the Attorney General, at the outset of her career when she first met Sid Linden in 1990.

“I was really taken with his vision.  He wanted to transform the Court and the Office of Chief – and make it a force to be reckoned with.  I thought of Justice Linden as the one of the first judicial officials to take a professional management view to operating a court as opposed to a purely legal view.  He was very progressive in his thinking about the role of the Court and he had good business chops.  He expanded the potential of the Court in how it was administered.  He did that in several ways.  First, he restructured the Court to rely on Associate Chief Judges by adding to and shifting their responsibilities.  Second, he implemented a regional structure through Regional Senior Judges.  This reflected a shift – judges across the province were taking on more active roles in focusing the direction of the Court.

It’s my recollection that he asked the blunt questions.  He wasn’t afraid to call out the issues and challenges as he saw them.”

(Source:  Interview of Lynn Norris for OCJ History Project, 2015.)

Relationship with the Ministry of the Attorney General

Attorney General Marion Boyd was one of the signatories to the 1993 Memorandum of Understanding. (Courtesy: The Law Society of Upper Canada.)

Attorney General Marion Boyd was one of the signatories to the 1993 Memorandum of Understanding. (Courtesy: The Law Society of Upper Canada.)

Linden focused on building institutional links to the Courts Administration Division of the Ministry of the Attorney General and to the Office of the Deputy Minister.  He worked at creating ongoing dialogues with successive Attorneys General.  He began to collect the information and data needed to create what he viewed as an independent court.  To ensure that independence, in 1993, he negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding with the Deputy Attorney General George Thomson and then signed it with Attorney General Marion Boyd.  This MOU gave the Court a degree of administrative autonomy that was unparalleled among trial courts in Canada.  This document continues to serve as an example to other courts.

Ontario Judicial Council

Linden had a strong voice in the reorganization of the Ontario Judicial Council – the body which investigates complaints by the public about the conduct of provincially appointed judges – giving it a form, structure, organization and operations that had been omitted from the legislative enactment creating it.  “Since the time of the inception of the Ontario Judicial Council back in the 1960s, it had been run out of Osgoode Hall by the Chief Justice of Ontario.  When I was appointed Chief, I discovered that I was the only provincially appointed judge on the Council – that was making decisions about the judges of our Court.   Complaints were made to the Chief Justice of Ontario, and his executive officer would call a meeting, as needed, of the members of the Council and they would deal with the complaints very informally.  The Council continued along like that for years.  The judges on our Court were very upset.  They felt they weren’t adequately represented on their own Council.  We began making submissions to the government that they ought to reconstitute the Council to make proceedings more open, with clear procedures set out and to give provincially appointed judges a fairer representation on the Council.  By 1995, the entire system was redesigned – with two co-Chairs, the Chief Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice and the Chief Justice of Ontario – and comprehensive annual reports.”[7]

Attention to Judicial Education

Understanding the need for well-funded and well-planned continuing judicial education, Linden created an Education Secretariat, composed of judges, with its own budget and the mandate to develop, coordinate and deliver an effective education curriculum for the judges of the Court.  The creation of the Education Secretariat was confirmed by another Memorandum of Understanding – this one signed in 1997 by Linden and representatives of the Ontario Judges Association and the Ontario Family Law Judges Association.[8] That MOU gave the responsibility for development of the content of core education programs to the Associations and the administration of the budgets for education to the Office of the Chief Judge, while recognizing that judicial education and training was clearly a shared responsibility.  At the same time, Linden also increased educational programming for the justices of the peace.

“Small” Details Matter Too

Linden also took the time to turn his attention to a collection of smaller things that, when considered, are really not small at all and have real significance for people working within a system.  For example, the Provincial Courts had always used letterhead with the Ontario government crest atop it.  Linden had a special letterhead designed for the new Court that belonged to it alone.  The justices of the peace did not have robes of their own design.  Linden had a robe with a distinctive green sash designed for the justices of the peace.

When the Sunshine List of Ontario government employees earning more than $100,000 was published in 1996, judges were lumped in with Crown Attorneys and other staff from the Ministry of the Attorney General.  “I saw this as a judicial independence issue.  The original list made it look like judges were employees of the Attorney General.  We got that changed immediately,” recalled Linden.  Judges were off the Attorney General’s list and were listed separately as members of the judiciary.

Relationship with Other Courts

He worked closely with the Chief Justices of the Ontario Court (General Division) and the Court of Appeal on issues of common interest.

That work was – particularly at the outset of Linden’s tenure – acrimonious.

The changes made to gowns worn by the judges of the Provincial Division were particularly challenging.  “When Ian Scott’s plan called for a single trial court, part of that plan was that all judges would wear the same gown.  One of CJEC’s first decisions in 1990 was that our judges should wear the same gowns as the General Division – the superior court.  Frank Callaghan (then Chief Judge of the General Division) went ballistic.  We finally agreed that the judges of both Courts would wear red sashes, but our sashes would be worn over different shoulders,” recalled Linden.

Linden with Attorney General Charles Harnick in June 1996. (Source: Your MAG et vous, Vol 8, No. 3, June 1996, p.1.)

Linden with Attorney General Charles Harnick in June 1996. (Source: Your MAG et vous, Vol 8, No. 3, June 1996, p.1.)

By the mid-1990s, the relationship amongst the Provincial Division, General Division and the Court of Appeal had become a productive one.  In particular, in 1996, the three Courts were able to come together to send a joint letter (signed by Linden and Charles Dubin, Chief Justice of Ontario, and Roy McMurtry, Chief Justice of the General Division) to Attorney General Charles Harnick urging Harnick to put an immediate stop to budget cuts to the justice system.  And the government listened to them.





The Chiefs of Ontario’s three Courts signed a letter in 1996 warning the provincial government of the inadvisability of proposed budget cuts to the justice system. That letter made the front page of the Toronto Star. (Source: Tracey Tyler, “Cuts mean justice chaos top judges warn,” Toronto Star, January 31, 1996, p.1.)

The Chiefs of Ontario’s three Courts signed a letter in 1996 warning the provincial government of the inadvisability of proposed budget cuts to the justice system. That letter made the front page of the Toronto Star. (Source: Tracey Tyler, “Cuts mean justice chaos top judges warn,” Toronto Star, January 31, 1996, p.1.)

The Conclusion of Chief Justice Linden’s Tenure

Linden’s term as Chief of the Court ended in 1999 – nine years after it had begun, and four years after it should have ended. Linden was initially appointed by a Liberal government (AG Ian Scott) in 1990. At that time, the legislation prescribed a five-year term for the Chief Judge. That term was extended by an NDP government (AG Marion Boyd) to six years and then for an additional two years, with a provision for one additional year if a successor hadn’t been appointed on the day the term expires, by a Conservative government (AG Charles Harnick).

As Linden recalled: “It was like being appointed three times over, by three different Attorneys General!”

A Move to Legal Aid Ontario

Chief Justice Sidney Bryan Linden in 1999. (Photo: Gilbert Studio. Courtesy: S. Linden.)

Chief Justice Sidney Bryan Linden in 1999. (Photo: Gilbert Studio. Courtesy: S. Linden.)

On April 19, 1999, by virtue of the Courts Improvement Act, 1996, the Ontario Court (Provincial Division) was renamed the Ontario Court of Justice.  On April 1, 1999, Linden was appointed to be the first chair of the Transitional Board of Legal Aid Ontario – he did, however, retain his status as a judge of the Court.  On May 3, 1999, Brian Lennox was appointed to replace Linden as Chief Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice.

Under Linden’s direction, Legal Aid Ontario moved toward bringing the former Ontario Legal Aid Plan and the Community Clinic Program, each of which were governed separately by the Law Society of Upper Canada, into a cohesive entity with the common purpose of providing legal services to low-income Ontarians.  Once again, Linden faced another administrative challenge:  transforming Legal Aid Ontario from a committee of the Law Society of Upper Canada into an independent, publicly funded, non-profit corporation.  This included expanding community legal clinic coverage, replacing outdated technology systems, expanding duty counsel services, and establishing new governance structures and policies.[9]

Linden Serves as Commissioner of the Ipperwash Inquiry

Attorney General Michael Bryant receives the final report of the Ipperwash Inquiry from Commissioner Justice Sidney Linden. (Source: Ministry of the Attorney General. May 31, 2007.)

Attorney General Michael Bryant receives the final report of the Ipperwash Inquiry from Commissioner Justice Sidney Linden. (Source: Ministry of the Attorney General. May 31, 2007.)

In November 2003, Attorney General Michael Bryant nominated Linden to be the Commissioner of the Ipperwash Inquiry. The inquiry had the dual mandate of investigating the shooting death of Dudley George at Ipperwash Park in 1995 and recommending ways to avoid future violence in similar circumstances. Linden spent two years listening to 139 witnesses, 229 days of testimony and was presented with 23,000 documents.

Linden’s appointment was particularly significant for the Ontario Court of Justice, recalled Brian Lennox – who was Chief Justice of the Court at the time of his appointment:  “Traditionally, federally appointed judges had been appointed to serve as chairs of public inquiries. The choice of Sid Linden, a provincial judge, as Commissioner for the Ipperwash Inquiry, a contentious and difficult inquiry with important policy ramifications, was a significant departure from previous practice and a precedent for future inquiries. The wisdom of that choice was more than amply demonstrated by his thoughtful and sensitive conduct of the inquiry as well as by the high quality of his report and recommendations.”[10]

In his role as Commissioner, Linden balanced countless challenging issues.  The proceedings were broadcast on a live webcast for all to watch.   Linden had to ensure that each of the 27 parties had an opportunity to speak and to be treated respectfully.  Ordinary public inquiry symbols such as the provincial coat of arms and ceremonial flags were very obvious and visible.  Linden decided to introduce a number of aboriginal symbols and customs as well, such as smudging, drums, eagle feathers, talking sticks, elder prayers, and other ceremonies to which all of the parties were invited.  By incorporating these customs in such a visible way, he demonstrated that not only were impartiality and fairness going to be part of the inquiry, but also that it could easily be seen and perceived as such by the many people who watched the proceedings in the hearing room and on the live webcast.

(Source: Editorial, “Inquiry inspires hope,” Sarnia Observer, August 26, 2006, p. A4.)

(Source: Editorial, “Inquiry inspires hope,” Sarnia Observer, August 26, 2006, p. A4.)

According to the Toronto Star, “he ended his work by issuing a four-volume, 1,533-page report and an eloquent half-hour speech that all sides believed to be fair and reasonable.”[11] Linden’s report was hailed as a landmark contribution to aboriginal, police and government relations.[12] Many of the report’s 100 recommendations were adopted, including the return of the Ipperwash Park to the First Nations and the establishment of a Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs.

Linden Appointed Conflict of Interest Commissioner

In 2007, Linden was appointed as Ontario’s Conflict of Interest Commissioner.  In this position, he provides clarity and guidance to Ontario government employees about matters of possible conflict.  He is also responsible for ensuring consistent conflict of interest rules for Ontario public servants in about 350 public bodies and reinforcing strong ethical culture within the Ontario public service.

A Life Devoted to Public Service

On November 9, 2013, Linden turned 75 and, as provided by the Courts of Justice Act, retired as a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice.   In summing up his career, which involved many pivotal roles in the justice system, Linden simply and succinctly said:  “I’ve done lots of things over the years.”  On February 3, 2015, Sidney Bryan Linden was awarded the Order of Ontario – recognition of his long and storied commitment to public service

R. v. Harding:  A Strong Message to Racists Across the Country

Linden often commented that he wished he’d had more time to devote to sitting in the courtroom and deciding cases. R. v. Harding is one of the important cases he did decide during his time as Chief Judge.

In 1997, Mark Jan Harding, a self-described Christian pastor, was criminally charged with the offence of wilfully promoting hatred against an identifiable group. In this case, that group consisted of all Muslims.Harding had written pamphlets and set up a recorded phone message that attacked Muslims. He distributed these pamphlets to, among others, Toronto high school students.

Chief Judge Sidney Linden presided at Harding’s trial and convicted him of promoting hatred against Muslims. One of the key issues at that proceeding was whether Harding “wilfully” promoted hatred. Harding acknowledged he’d written the pamphlets and recorded the phone messages, but he argued that he didn’t realize that Muslims would see his “evangelizing” as hatred.

In his reasons for judgment, Linden explained why he found Harding’s actions to be wilful.

“People who promote hatred rarely explicitly admit that such is their intention….Mr. Harding’s goal may well have been to rouse Christians to defend and propagate their religion. That, in itself is neither an unworthy nor an illegal goal….However, the means chosen to attain that goal are found by this court to be the unworthy and illegal means of engendering fear of, and hatred towards Muslims. Although Mr. Harding denies having the intent to promote hatred when disseminating his message, he was at best wilfully blind….the promotion of hatred by Mr. Harding’s messages cannot have been accidental.”  According to Linden, Harding possessed “an overwhelming case of guilty intent.”

Linden’s judgment was reported prominently in the media – particularly because it was only the third time in Canada that a conviction was registered in a case in which someone pleaded not guilty to wilfully promoting hatred.

Lincoln Alexander, Chair, Canadian Race Relations Foundation, wrote in the Toronto Star:  “The conviction of Mark Jan Harding sends a strong message to racists across the country that they can be held criminally liable if they wilfully promote hatred against an identifiable group.  It also sends a message to minority groups that the state will take steps to protect them against hate propaganda.  Most importantly, it may deter young people from joining hate groups.”

(Sources: R. v. Harding, 45 O.R. (3d) 207.  Chief Judge Linden’s 1998 judgment was appealed to the Summary Conviction Appeal Court where it was heard by Justice Dambrot who dismissed the appeal (52 O.R. (3d) 714).  Justice Dambrot’s judgment was appealed to the Court of Appeal for Ontario where it was again dismissed (57 O.R. (3d) 333).  Lincoln Alexander, Chair, Canadian Race Relations Foundation in “Mandela, and the fight against racism,” Toronto Star, September 26, 1998.)


  1. All S. Linden’s quotes and commentary come from a collection of interviews with S. Linden for the OCJ History, conducted from 2013 to 2015.
  2. To act for Cameron on her appeals, the CCLA had retained lawyers Walter Williston and Julian Porter. Linden recalled how much he learned watching these two star litigators during the trial. “That was a big deal for me,” he recalled. Cameron’s conviction was upheld on appeal.
  3. The name of the office of “Public Complaints Commissioner” was officially changed to “Police Complaints Commissioner” with the introduction of legislation to make the system province wide in 1990.
  4. In 2013, C.A.W. merged with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada to become Unifor.
  5. The legislation merging the Provincial Court (Criminal Division) and Provincial Court (Family Division) was proclaimed on September 1, 1990. Linden’s appointment as Chief Judge of the Provincial Court (Criminal Division) was announced on April 25, 1990. On that date, Attorney General Ian Scott also announced that, upon the merger of the Provincial Courts, Linden would become Chief of the newly merged Court – the Ontario Court (Provincial Division). On June 27, 1990, Linden was sworn in as both Chief Judge of the Provincial Court (Criminal Division) and Chief Judge of the Ontario Court (Provincial Division).
  6. Interview of A. Edgar for OCJ History Project, 2014.
  7. See Courts of Justice Act Statute Law Amendment Act, 1994, SO 1994, c. 12, ss. 49-51.12. This legislation was proclaimed in force on September 1, 1995.
  8. In 1999, the two Associations – representing criminal and family judges – merged and became the Conference of Judges. In May 2015, the name of conference was changed to the Association of Ontario Judges.
  9. “Legal Aid Ontario 1999-2004: Moving towards completing the client service journey,” Legal Aid Ontario, February 2004.
  10. Interview of B. Lennox for the OCJ History Project, 2015.
  11. Toronto Star, June 1, 2007.
  12. “Inquiry inspires hope,” The Observer (Sarnia), August 26, 2006, p. A4.


Hugh Derek Foster

Hugh Derek Foster was one of many war veterans who became magistrates, judges or justices of the peace in Ontario. His approach to judging reflected the rigour and decorum of a military background and the will to succeed despite the injuries he sustained.

This photo of Hugh Foster with his father (Harold William Foster) and mother (Anna “Queenie” Strathy Foster) was taken after his discharge from the army. (Courtesy: Strathy Family.)

This photo of Hugh Foster with his father (Harold William Foster) and mother (Anna “Queenie” Strathy Foster) was taken after his discharge from the army. (Courtesy: Strathy Family.)

The Fosters were a family committed to military service. The father, H.W.A. Foster, had served in the First World War, while Hugh and his two brothers fought in France during the Second World War. One of the brothers was killed at Dieppe; Hugh Foster survived but as an amputee after shell fragments struck his left leg during action in Normandy. He was 24 years old.[1]

Following discharge, Foster attended Osgoode Hall Law School – on crutches as he had not yet been fitted with a prosthetic. He made the mistake of taking a course in real estate law that was taught by his father, lawyer H.W.A.  Foster. That was the only course in which Hugh Derek Foster received a failing grade. Nonetheless, he graduated in 1947.[2]

Osgoode Hall Law School class of 1947. (Courtesy: Law Society of Upper Canada Archives.)

Osgoode Hall Law School class of 1947. (Courtesy: Law Society of Upper Canada Archives.)

Foster worked in private practice before joining the Ontario Securities Commission as a solicitor. In 1958 he was named a magistrate, at the age of 38. Although magistrates were not required to be lawyers, Foster’s legal background was an asset and he enjoyed researching the law. He was often assigned cases that required an understanding of specialized areas such as corporate fraud. The only part of his work that he grumbled about was being assigned to perform Saturday weddings.[3]

At this stage of his life, Foster began a relationship with Patricia Newman and they remained a couple for 40 years until Newman’s death. Although they didn’t live together, Foster was a father to Newman’s daughter Laureen from the time she was five years old.

Laureen Newman did not grow up hearing typical children’s bedtime stories. Instead, her father thrilled her with stories about his court cases and war experiences. One of her favourites involved the case of a woman whom Foster had sentenced to six months in prison. The woman’s friend was sitting in the courtroom. “The other lady was enraged with my dad. She threw her purse at him and it went flying past his head, hitting the Canadian flag behind him. My dad charged her with contempt of court and so both women ended up going to prison together.”[4]

In 1968, Foster became a judge when the new Provincial Courts replaced the Magistrates Courts. He continued to work primarily in Toronto’s Old City Hall courthouse. Despite the change in name from ‘magistrate’ to ‘judge’, he didn’t notice much of a change.[5]

Foster had his share of topical issues to adjudicate when presiding over criminal cases. Newspaper articles from the 1960s and 1970s report that Foster heard cases involving armed robbery, confiscated guns, impaired driving, sit-ins in Toronto’s “Yorkville hippie district,” the alleged obscenity of a magazine called “Satyrday”, false tax returns, and a conspiracy to traffic in a half ton of marijuana.[6] In 1972 – 10 years before the introduction of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms – he refused to admit evidence the police had obtained after searching a person without reasonable grounds.[7]

Hugh Foster is a relative of the Honourable George R. Strathy, who was appointed Chief Justice of Ontario on June 13, 2014. As a child, Strathy was inclined to feel sorry for his father’s cousin, an unmarried man with a prosthetic leg. But he came to realize that Hugh was living a full life, having become a skilled golfer despite his disability, travelling widely, and attracting many female admirers until he settled down with Patricia Newman.[8]

As a young lawyer, Strathy appeared before Foster in a preliminary hearing for a fraud case only after being assured that the Crown attorney had no objection in light of the family connection. “He was not an interventionist judge”, recalled Strathy. “He was dignified, proper and precise, with a military bearing.”[9]

That dignity was evident many years later when Hugh Foster put down his cane and walked into a room to meet with the Ontario Judicial Council. The purpose was to secure approval to continue sitting as a judge beyond the age of 70 years.[10] Forcing someone to personally demonstrate fitness didn’t sit well with Sidney Linden, Chief Judge of the newly created Ontario Court (Provincial Division). When the authority to make such decisions was transferred from the Judicial Council to the Chief Judge, Linden was quick to change the policy so that, in most cases, a medical certificate would suffice.[11]

I remember Hugh well from when I was a lawyer. I had good trials when he presided and I appreciated the fact that he was always a gentleman. I had a great regard for him. Later, in the early 90s, I remember him standing with his cane outside a room full of members of the Judicial Council at Osgoode Hall. When his name was called, he puffed himself up and walked in without the cane. That was the catalyst that made me realize that the system needed to change. He was perfectly competent but he felt he was at the whim of the Council. He worried that, because of his missing limb, he might be deemed not healthy enough to continue to serve.
Sidney Linden, Former Chief Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice[12]

Hugh Foster
Hugh Derek Foster at age 75 upon retirement from the Court in 1995.
(Courtesy: Laureen Fisher)

Hugh Foster retired from the bench on his 75th birthday. Twenty years later, interviewed for the Ontario Court of Justice history project, he reflected on his time as a magistrate and judge, recalling: “The thing I liked best was feeling that I could do something worthwhile.”[13]

  1. Newspaper clippings from Strathy/Foster Family scrapbook.
  2. Interview of Laureen Fisher for the OCJ History Project, 2015.
  3. Interviews of Laureen Fisher and Hugh Foster for the OCJ History Project, 2015.
  4. Interview of Laureen Fisher for the OCJ History Project, 2015.
  5. Interview of Hugh Foster for the OCJ History Project, 2015.
  6. Ottawa Journal articles, 1962 to 1976.
  7. Ottawa Journal, Pot charge dismissed, police search illegal, May 5, 1972.
  8. Interview of G. Strathy for the OCJ History Project, 2015.
  9. Interview of G. Strathy for the OCJ History Project, 2015.
  10. Section 54(4) of the Courts of Justice Act, 1984 provided that, in order to continue in office on a full-time or part-time basis, judges reaching the age of seventy had to obtain approval annually from the Judicial Council.
  11. The policy was further revised in October 2011 by subsequent Chief Justice Annemarie Bonkalo. Under her protocol, annual medical certificates were no longer automatically required for judges over 65. The Chief Justice could, however, request a medical certificate if there was a reasonable basis to believe that a judge had become incapacitated or disabled due to inability, because of a disability, to perform the essential duties
    of office.
  12. Interview of S. Linden for the OCJ History Project, 2015.
  13. Interview of H. Foster for the OCJ History Project, 2015.


Stories from the North: Regional Senior Justice of the Peace Kathleen Bryant

A Bible and a Briefcase (Mid-1994)

In 1994, Kathleen Bryant saw an ad in the Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal for a part-time, non-presiding justice of the peace. She submitted an application and found herself at a gruelling interview before a panel of eight people, including an aggressive lawyer who asked a series of tough questions. Bryant went back to her job as a social service administrator (a.k.a. the Welfare Lady) for the Township of Ignace. She was surprised to get a call, many months later, to say that she was the successful candidate. Bryant was given a Bible, a tape recorder, a copy of the Criminal Code, and a briefcase. Armed with these essential items and not much in the way of training, Bryant began what was to be a long career in the Ontario justice system.

English River (1994–1995)

A lonely stretch of Highway 17 at English River

A lonely stretch of Highway 17 at English River

As a Justice of the Peace in northern Ontario, Kathleen Bryant’s juridisction covered a large area: east to Upsula, west to Dryden, north to Pickle Lake, and south to Atikokan. In the north, police officers often work alone. A long drive to meet a Justice of the Peace meant their community was left unprotected. Long drives were also precarious due to harsh weather conditions. So Bryant arranged to meet one officer in English River, about half way between Ignace and Upsula, to save driving time for both of them.


The English River Motel – A makeshift Intake Court

The English River Motel – A makeshift Intake Court

Bryant approached the proprietor of the English River Motel and restaurant on the north side of Highway 17 across from the gas station. He agreed to turn a tiny back room into a makeshift office. It had just enough room for an old desk and a couple of chairs. “My colleagues in urban centres couldn’t believe that we would conduct business in such locations”, said Bryant. “They didn’t understand the realities of northern distances, weather, highway closures, and the scarcity of court houses. We tried our best to maintain decorum and professionalism no matter where we were.”

Winter in The North – To save driving long distances in harsh weather, courts are often conducted in unorthodox settings – including motels!

Winter in The North – To save driving long distances in harsh weather, courts are often conducted in unorthodox settings – including motels!

An Education in Northern Wildlife

Kathleen Bryant’s experience with search warrants turned out to be more than she had expected.  In the early days after signing a search warrant for an enforcement officer, she would look forward to the officer’s return after executing the warrant. The officers would show her whatever they had seized as a result of their search. Bryant would occasionally find herself looking at the back end of a moose, the odd bear, and various other endangered species that the officer had seized. She hadn’t bargained on receiving a first-hand education about northern Ontario wildlife.

Clearing the Bar

Kathleen Bryant and her husband walked in to a local restaurant and bar in their home town of Ignace. This was a small community where everyone knew each other. At least everyone knew Bryant, who, during the 1990s, was a part-time justice of the peace and “the Welfare Lady.” When she walked in, everyone else walked out. Apparently many did not want her to see them drinking or carousing. Her husband used to joke, “No one can clear out a bar like Kathleen.” Actually it was a lonely life, but at least Bryant and her husband got excellent service since they were often the only customers in the place! Eventually they just stopped going out. Such are true challenges faced by judicial officers in small northern communities.

Adjusting to Conversion (August 1995)

At the time of Kathleen Bryant’s appointment, she didn’t realize that she was on the cusp of a sea of change for the justice of the peace bench in Ontario. The “conversion” of justices of the peace in the mid-1990s meant a transition from an often casual way of conducting business to one that was much more professional and independent from police and other enforcement officers. The transition was easier for Bryant because the old ways were not too entrenched. But she watched as colleagues struggled to make the shift. They had enjoyed their informal relationships with police and conservation officers. No longer could they drop by the police station to share a coffee and shoot the breeze.

Stories from the North: Judge Peter Bishop

Court Prayer (1994)

When Peter Bishop first sat as a judge in northwestern Ontario in the 1990s, he noticed a woman in traditional dress who came to court almost every day. He soon learned that she was Marion Anderson, an Oji-Cree elder from Big Trout Lake. In 1950, Marion had become the first woman to serve as a First Nations band councillor in Ontario. She was later inducted into the Order of Ontario.

Peter spoke with Marion through an interpreter. Marion made two requests. The first request was to speak on some sentencing matters, and Peter was happy to oblige. The second request was to say a prayer at the beginning of court, in Oji-Cree, to bless the court, provide guidance to the judge, and encourage the people of her community to be good citizens – to which Peter also agreed. Marion’s opening prayer became a standard feature in his courtroom.

Years later, Peter took several Court of Appeal judges on a tour of northern fly-in court locations. During the tour, Big Trout Lake Chief Donny Morris said that he hadn’t always supported the court coming to his community, but he supported Peter Bishop. The reason? Marion Anderson was the Chief’s grandmother and she had said, “Peter Bishop is a good guy and you should listen to him.” Peter had respected Aboriginal ways and they respected him in return.

Northwest Regional Statistics

Northwest Region

Pickle Lake (1996)

portrait of Justice Peter Bishop

Justice Peter Bishop

Judge Peter Bishop had been waiting at the Red Lake airport since 7:30 in the morning. The weather in Red Lake was beautiful on that March day – it felt just like spring. But there was heavy fog in Dryden, Sioux Lookout and Kenora. As a result, the plane booked to take Peter and court staff to Pickle Lake didn’t arrive until noon – four and a half hours late. Peter was determined to make it to Pickle Lake that day. He knew that one lawyer had driven four hours from Dryden to make it to Court for 10:00 a.m. Two duty counsel from Thunder Bay were there to deal with 51 charges on the Criminal and Youth Court list. And a child custody trial had been waiting for three months to be heard.

Cathy Beamish

Lawyer Cathy Beamish

Lawyer Cathy Beamish was also waiting for a plane to get her to Court in Pickle Lake that Friday morning. Standing in the fog at the Sioux Lookout airport, she doubted that the plane would make it in time. She fully expected Court to be cancelled due to the weather, a frequent experience, particularly in the spring and autumn.

Pickle Lake is a small northern Ontario town, just 20 kilometres north of the Osnaburgh First Nation. When the small plane landed, an OPP van picked up and drove Peter, his clerk, monitor, and interpreter to the community hall where court would be held.

Pickle Lake Community Hall

The Pickle Lake Community Hall is next to the bowling alley and the liquor store. The proximity to a source of alcohol was a problem, since many people waiting for court had substance abuse issues. With several hours to kill, they went to the liquor store. As a young duty counsel commented, “We had a late start today and consequently almost everybody there is now drunk.”



Justice Peter Bishop in the community hall’s library.

Peter made his way to the community hall’s cluttered library which served as his judicial chambers. He put on his robe with no mirror to guide him as he adjusted his tabs and sash. With no court security, Peter worried that a court participant would come through the door while he was only partially dressed – it had happened before!




Swearing Information

Justice Peter Bishop swearing an Information

Because justices of the peace were not assigned to remote satellite courts on criminal or family days, the first thing Peter did after donning his robes was to swear an Information for an OPP officer. This also occurred in the library. Then Peter proceeded to the main room of the community hall. Long, narrow tables had been pushed together to form places for the judge, court staff, and counsel. Everyone else sat in blue stacking chairs aligned in rows.


Community Hall

Justice Peter Bishop presiding

It was 3:00 p.m. when court began. Most participants had been there since 10:00 a.m. All matters were adjudicated. Some guilty pleas were entered and adjournments granted. Most importantly, the child custody trial proceeded.  Justice was served despite the “cold hard facts of northern justice.”



Big Trout Lake (1996)

Justice Peter Bishop –  Set to fly in to a northern community

Justice Peter Bishop – Set to fly in to a northern community

Once a month, judge Peter Bishop would take an hour-long flight from Red Lake to preside in Court in Big Trout Lake. One morning he arrived to convene the court, which was to be held in the community hall. The only problem was that the community hall wasn’t there. It had been torn down with no advance warning. An hour later, several pick-up trucks arrived. The trucks were loaded with chairs and tables to set up the court in a nearby hotel. This was preferable to the local nursing home, which had served as a court setting on previous occasions. Eventually a new community hall was built and it became the regular court location in Big Trout Lake.

(All photos courtesy of Peter Bishop).