Opening of the Courts of Ontario for 2022

Remarks of the Honourable J. Michal Fairburn
Associate Chief Justice of Ontario

Opening of Courts of Ontario. October 3, 2022

It is a great honour to be here with you today, both in person and online, presiding at the 2022 Opening of the Courts ceremony.[1] It is a particular honour to be seated between the Honourable Chief Justice Morawetz and the Honourable Chief Justice Maisonneuve.

Following two years of holding this ceremony only online, it is a true pleasure to be gathering in-person. While we have learned a great deal about how to do things remotely, and I think we have even become pretty good at it, I know that I am not alone when I say that the long period of being away from each other has enhanced our appreciation for the importance of personal connections.

It is tremendous to be in a courtroom today with friends and colleagues from across the justice community, what I believe to be a true demonstration of not only our collective resiliency, but an acknowledgment of the strength and importance of the justice system in our vibrant democracy.

As the Associate Chief Justice of Ontario, I would not ordinarily preside at this ceremony. However, at the Court of Appeal, we find ourselves in a period of transition. On August 31, 2022, the Honourable George Strathy retired as Chief Justice of Ontario and a new Chief Justice of Ontario has not yet been appointed.

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I wish to start by acknowledging the former Chief Justice, seated in the front row today, accompanied as always by the equally wonderful Elyse Strathy. Words cannot adequately capture the gratitude that we feel for the extraordinary leadership our former Chief Justice has shown, not only as the President of the Court of Appeal for Ontario, but also as the leader of the administration of justice in Ontario and a leader within the broader Canadian justice system.

Before being appointed as Chief Justice, the Honourable George Strathy had already built a reputation as an excellent jurist. As Chief Justice of Ontario for the last eight years, he became known as a wise, steady, and respectful leader, one who led by example and was admired by all for his work ethic, diligence, integrity, and collegiality.

Never were these qualities more needed, or more on display, than when we all found ourselves in March of 2020, suddenly thrust into a global pandemic. The truth is that when the pandemic hit, like others, the justice system was ill-equipped to respond. Yet, as the third branch of government, essential to maintaining our democracy, the judicial branch had to respond, and do so expeditiously. The times cried out for decisive leadership and Chief Justice Strathy responded to the call.

With his characteristically calm approach, he guided the judges and staff of the Court of Appeal through these uncertain times, allowing us to emerge as a stronger, more flexible, accessible, and modernized court. With him leading the way, we were able to continue to efficiently deliver justice, despite the many hurdles placed in the way.

The Honourable George Strathy will be remembered for countless contributions to justice, but among his most significant legacy pieces will be his commitment to promoting diversity and addressing mental health in the legal profession. He frequently spoke and wrote on these issues and worked with legal organizations to develop new committees, courses, and conferences prioritizing these areas.

Monsieur le Juge en chef Strathy, vos années de service en qualité de juge en chef ont sans aucun doute rendu l’administration de la justice en Ontario plus inclusive, compréhensive, humaine et solide.

Chief Justice Strathy, your time as Chief Justice has undoubtedly made the administration of justice in Ontario more inclusive, understanding, compassionate and stronger. We salute you, Elyse, and your beautiful family, and extend to you our warmest and deepest thanks for your unhesitating service. We wish you a happy, healthy and fulfilling retirement.

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In addition to Chief Justice Strathy’s retirement, there have been significant changes in the Court of Appeal’s complement since the last Opening of Courts ceremony last year, which I would like to recognize today.

In November, the Honourable David Watt retired after 14 years on the Court of Appeal. One of Canada’s preeminent criminal law jurists, David Watt is being recognized for his lifetime contribution to the field of criminal law in November, when he will receive the prestigious G. Arthur Martin Medal. We miss our friend and colleague a great deal.

Also in this past year, Justices Jonathan George, Lise Favreau and Jill Copeland joined the Court. These judges bring a diverse array of experience and expertise in areas including criminal, aboriginal, constitutional, civil, and administrative law, adding significant bench strength to our court.

We are so pleased to welcome them as colleagues.

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Before speaking about the Court’s work this year, and its upcoming initiatives, I want to take a moment for reflection.

The opening of courts this year follows closely upon Canada’s second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, held on September 30th, a day that honours the survivors of the residential school system and the children who were taken from their families and never returned home. We also recognize the families and communities that have been so deeply traumatized by the painful and tragic legacy that is the Residential School System in Canada.

To publicly acknowledge and commemorate this shameful part of Canada’s history and the impact that continues to this day, Ontario’s courts did not sit on Friday, instead offering an opportunity for active learning and reflection. At the Court of Appeal, we are also following up with an educational session that will be hosted tomorrow, offered to all judges and staff at the Court.

The path toward truth and reconciliation demands that we actively commit ourselves to the important work of acknowledgement, understanding and healing, in furtherance of what the Supreme Court of Canada has described as a “mutually respectful long-term relationship.” [2]

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Turning now to the operations of Court of Appeal, in our ongoing commitment to furthering access to justice I would like to share just a few updates on some of our recent and upcoming initiatives.

We are pleased that this past Spring, our Court was able to return to in-person sittings at Osgoode Hall. This came on the heels of having navigated a very challenging over two-year pandemic course, one where our Court was well-supported by the Ministry of the Attorney General, with Deputy Attorney General David Corbett and Assistant Deputy Attorney General Samantha Poisson of the Recovery Secretariat at the lead. Thank you for your tremendous assistance.

While we now encourage parties to attend in-person, we have, and plan to continue, for at least the immediate future, providing parties with the flexibility to attend remotely if required. This week we are also resuming our practice of hearing in-person inmate appeals in Kingston for the first time since 2019.

In August, we launched a new digital case management system at the Court of Appeal which replaces a 30-year-old legacy database. This is the culmination of a three-year collaborative project with the Ministry of the Attorney General and Thomson-Reuters. I extend our sincere thanks to the Attorney General for your support of this project and to all at the Court and the Ministry who have worked so diligently to support this transformation.

We have now completed the first phase of the project, which has greatly improved document management, transforming the way our administrative staff do their work. We are working on Phase II, which will support judicial access to the system. Phase III, the final phase, which we plan to launch in 2023 will provide a new public portal for improved electronic filing, fee payment, and document access.

We are also on the eve of launching a number of additional operational initiatives. Over the course of the coming year, the public will be seeing improvements including:

  • a new public-facing decision database with enhanced search capacity accessible through the Court’s website;
  • improvements to our courtroom technology that will provide a better experience for those attendees appearing remotely; and
  • a newly renovated fully accessible courtroom, providing adaptability features for people, including judges, litigants, and the public, with different needs and abilities, which will set a new benchmark for accessible courtrooms in Ontario. This is an initiative which has been achieved in consultation with the Ontario Courts Accessibility Committee. I wish to acknowledge that committee for its hard work and the important contributions it makes to ensuring a more accessible justice system in Ontario.

I am grateful to the significant efforts of the extraordinary Shannon Chace (Executive Legal Officer), Jacob Bakan (Special Counsel to the Chief Justice), Daniel Marentic (Registrar and Manager of Court Operations), the team of brilliant staff lawyers and the dedicated staff at the Court of Appeal, who have collectively, as a team, made these initiatives possible, all while continuing to support the day-to-day operations of our Court.

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In addition to the heavy sitting schedules that the judges of our Court undertake they also contribute in other ways to the administration of justice. One of those contributions involves work on continuing legal education for the Bar. In the past while, there has been a particular effort to support, develop and educate junior counsel, with a focus on diversity and inclusion in the profession.

The Court’s Bench and Bar Diversity Committee, which is chaired by Justice Kathryn Feldman, was instrumental in the development of our court’s public announcement, as embodied in the “Statement Regarding Submissions from Counsel”, that we invite and, indeed, encourage oral submissions by junior and intermediate counsel.

In addition, the Bench and Bar Diversity Committee initiated a highly successful Appellate Advocacy Course for members of organizations that are part of Ontario’s Round Table of Diversity Associations.

The wide range of educational initiatives in which the Court’s judges are involved also include the upcoming Symposium in honour of the Honourable Marc Rosenberg. Justice Rosenberg was a brilliant jurist, a dedicated teacher and the kindest of colleagues to all who knew him. The symposium will focus on mentorship opportunities for junior counsel, many of whom do not otherwise have mentors. Those mentors will be selected from senior counsel who will assist the more junior counsel in preparing an appeal which will culminate in a mooting opportunity before judges of the Court of Appeal.

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Before closing, I wish to reiterate my gratitude for the members of our justice community and speak to the importance of your work.

The work you do to sustain the administration of justice is essential to the ongoing legitimacy of the rule of law, which is fundamental to values that all who live in Canada hold close: the maintenance of an equitable and peaceful society.

There exists an inextricable link between the public’s confidence in the administration of justice and the upholding of our democratic institutions through the rule of law.

Public participation and engagement with the justice system, as well as understanding of the justice system, is an essential element of safeguarding the legitimacy of the rule of law. We must continue to evolve with this in mind.

Of course, confidence is not owed, it is earned. And ultimately it is the hard work, diligence and integrity of the people who work in the justice community, represented by those of you who are here today, who will sustain that necessary confidence.

This includes the exceptional Chief Justices and Associate Chief Justices in Ontario, the hard-working jurists across the province, the dedicated court administration staff, the committed members of the Bar, and those who work tirelessly in community support agencies and law enforcement.

You serve the public well. You inspire confidence every day. It is a deep privilege and honour to serve along your side.

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In closing I want to express a special word of gratitude to the judges of the Court of Appeal for Ontario, colleagues who I am lucky enough to also call friends. You inspire me every day. Thank you for all that you do.

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Thank you for your attention and allowing me the privilege of speaking with you today.


  1. Prior to delivering these remarks the Associate Chief Justice of Ontario acknowledged the special guests and law association representatives who were present in the courtroom and acknowledged the passing of Queen Elizabeth II and her significance to the Canadian legal order.
  2. Beckman v. Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation, 2010 SCC 53
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