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“No proper appraisal of any judicial office can be made without some knowledge of its history.”

Chief Justice James Chalmers McRuer, “Royal Commission Inquiry into Civil Rights,” 1968

The story of the Ontario Court of Justice is rich and varied – and until this publication, largely untold. Ontario Court of Justice: A History chronicles the Court’s evolution from the most neglected in the province to one of the most significant and well-respected in the nation.

The Busiest Court in Canada

In 2015, the Ontario Court of Justice will:

  • conduct 250,000 criminal cases (98 percent of all such cases in Ontario);
  • assist more than 23,000 families in crisis (49 per cent of all child protection, Children’s Law Reform Act, and Family Law Act proceedings in Ontario); and
  • handle more than two million provincial offences and highway traffic charges.

The saga begins with Police Magistrates’ Courts that predated Confederation and continues through 2015, to find the Ontario Court of Justice functioning as the largest and busiest court in Canada, with more than 730 judges and justices of the peace presiding.

A Non-Traditional Book

Ontario Court of Justice: A History is intended to be an educational tool for members of the Court and the public it serves. An “e-history,” it is freely and easily available to all on the internet.

This is not intended to be used as a traditional book, read in order from start to finish. Through the online format and searchable interface, readers can select the portions they wish to consult and prioritize to suit their interests. Any section can be printed for those who prefer to read hard copies.

Telling the Story

This is not an academic or comprehensive treatise. It is a selective recounting of the Court’s history through events, people, changes and cases.

The story has been divided into four time periods, corresponding to the Court’s numerous incarnations over the years. A general overview is provided for each time period, supplemented by shorter articles under the headings: Major Changes, Notable Cases, and Profiles & Stories. In addition, a collection of six essays traces the evolution of the Court on substantive topics.

Four Time Periods

  • 1867-1967: Magistrates’, Juvenile and Family Courts
  • 1968-1989: Provincial Courts – Criminal, Family and Civil Divisions
  • 1990-1999: Ontario Court of Justice (Provincial Division)
  • 2000 to 2015: Ontario Court of Justice

Six Essays

  • Leading an Independent Court
  • Educating Judges and Justices of the Peace
  • Diversity: Changing the Face of the Court
  • Transformation of the Court: 1867 to 2015
  • The Judge Outside the Courtroom
  • Adapting to Change: Juvenile Justice

Notable Cases

For the purposes of this e-history, a “notable case” is one that: defines or clarifies the jurisdiction, role or work of the Court or judiciary; sets a significant legal precedent; indicates a “bold” move or initiative on the part of the Provincial Court judiciary; or features interesting facts that evoke the state of our society at the time of the decision.

The Ontario Court of Justice

The Ontario Court of Justice is one of two trial courts in Ontario
that comprise the Court of Ontario. The bench of the Ontario
Court of Justice is composed of provincially appointed judges
and justices of the peace. The bench of the other trial court,
the Superior Court of Justice, is composed of federally
appointed judges.

As a “statutory” court (a court created by statute), the
jurisdiction of Ontario Court of Justice is delineated by the laws
of Ontario and of Canada. This jurisdiction includes offences
committed under provincial statutes, family law cases and the
overwhelming majority of criminal cases.

(Source: Annual and Biennial Reports of the Ontario Court of
Justice (2005, 2006/2007, 2008/2009))

Out of the millions of cases decided by the Court over the decades, fewer than 20 were selected as “notable cases.” While recognizing that many other cases would have met the criteria as well, these cases were chosen as examples of the wide range of matters heard in the Court.

Creation of the History: A Group Effort

Ontario Court of Justice: A History was the vision of former Chief Justice Annemarie Bonkalo. She invited authors Karen Cohl, Susan Lightstone and George Thomson to work with the Office of the Chief Justice on the history project. They, in turn, spent countless hours interviewing many members of the Court and others who have been involved in the work of the Ontario Court of Justice.

As the project evolved, several others, including a number of the Court’s judges, made significant contributions to the researching and writing of the history.

The Story Continues

There will always be much more to tell about the Ontario Court of Justice. We hope that this history will stimulate others to tell their stories from the past and to record the history of the Court as it unfolds in the future.

October 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9950133-0-8