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2014 Opening of the Courts Speech

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Chief Justice Annemarie E. Bonkalo
Ontario Court of Justice
September 9, 2014

Votre Honneur, Madame et Monsieur les juges en chef, – Je me joins au juge en chef Strathy et à la juge en chef Smith pour vous souhaiter la bienvenue ainsi qu’à tous nos invités à la cérémonie d’aujourd’hui.

On behalf of all members of the Ontario Court of Justice, I congratulate you – Chief Justice Strathy – on your appointment. Thank you for your thoughtful and generous remarks. I also wish to thank former Chief Justices McMurtry and Winkler for their support and guidance. I have enjoyed working with Chief Justice Smith on a number of court initiatives and thank you, Chief Justice Smith for your kind remarks.

On any given day – in more than 200 locations – thousands of people appear in the Ontario Court of Justice. Our justices of the peace and judges hear well over two million matters annually in our criminal, family and provincial offences courts.

In all of these cases, we seek to serve the people of Ontario by providing open, modern and fair justice. Our accountability and transparency, in turn, fosters respect for and acceptance of our judiciary as independent and impartial arbiters.

Openness, described by the Supreme Court as the “very soul of justice,” is our first goal. Over the past year, our Court has greatly improved the quality of quarterly court statistics posted online and will continue to do so.

Together with the Court Services Division and the Superior Court of Justice, we have recently posted daily court lists online. Yet another step towards meeting our goal of enhancing openness.

To support the many unrepresented litigants who appear in our courts, we have developed court guides relating to provincial offences, family and criminal cases. An Appeal Guide for Defendants in Provincial Offences Cases and a Children’s Guide to Family Law are both in development. Such basic information is critical to demystifying the court process.

Our second goal is “modern justice.” In partnership with Court Services Division, our Court recently completed the implementation of criminal electronic orders in courtrooms across Ontario, ensuring that the most common criminal orders are available to accused persons, offenders, sureties and justice service providers in simple, plain language. Our justice of the peace bench has also just introduced a new electronic scheduling tool to promote province-wide consistency in scheduling practices.

We plan further modernization through broader use of video conferencing, enhanced electronic intake opportunities, and the development of a province-wide judicial scheduling tool.

Our third goal is to further fair justice. This is of course the most important of all of our Court’s commitments. It is at the heart of any justice system, incorporating the basic principles of impartiality, due process and just outcomes.

While fairness already underscores our daily efforts, we are always looking at ways to improve. Reducing trial continuations and what we call collapse rates through enhanced case management will be focal points for our Court over the coming year. We are reviewing the current judicial pre-trial process in courthouses across the province as well as other jurisdictions to identify the best way to achieve these objectives.

Our Court has long had judges fly into remote com¬munities to conduct criminal and family proceedings. As I reported last year, we co-chaired a Fly-in Court Working Group to identify practical ways to improve justice services in the Far North. Many of the Working Group’s recom¬mendations have been implemented; for example, we are sche¬duling more dedicated youth court days in Pikangikum and have dedicated one judge to hear family and child protection cases during our Attawapiskat sittings. Our Court is committed to continuing our dialogue with remote First Nations communities and their Tribal Councils to promote the provision of high-quality services in their communities.

“High conflict” is a term that is often used to describe the family litigants who appear before us. In an effort to address the needs of these families, the Ministry recently introduced onsite mediation. Our Court welcomes this program enhancement. We are also appreciative of the invaluable assistance of the family law Bar, duty and advice counsel, children’s aid societies, Legal Aid Ontario, the Office of the Children’s Lawyer, supervised access centres, and the many other community resources that assist these families in crisis to resolve their disputes in an effective and timely manner.

We still need to do more. With the able assistance of our newly appointed Senior Advisory Family Judge, Debra Paulseth, the Ontario Court of Justice commits to innovate to further assist the families appearing in our courts.

Our Court continues to be deeply concerned with the special challenges faced by young people who come into conflict with the law. These youth often have multiple needs – legal, housing, employment, educational, mental health and addiction. The hurdles they must overcome in order to access limited services are overwhelming. The resources available through the Youth Mental Health Courtworker and Aboriginal Courtworker programs are examples of initiatives that make a difference. We hope that these and other resources continue to be available for our youth. Our youth are our most precious resource and worth our collective investment.

As I approach the end of my term as Chief Justice next May, there are a number of people to whom I owe much thanks.

To Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur – congratulations on your re-appointment. I also wish to thank former Attorneys: John Gerretsen, Chris Bentley and Michael Bryant, for working so collaboratively with us during my tenure.

Thank you also Deputy Attorneys Murray Segal, Mark Leach, and Patrick Monahan; Assistant Deputy Attorneys Ann Merritt and Lynne Wagner. Their commitment, and the commitment of everyone in the Ministry, is impressive and vital to the effective delivery of justice services.

I also extend my sincerest thanks to the outstanding legal and administrative staff in my office at 1 Queen for your tireless work and contributions to our Court, but especially to the Office of the Chief Justice.

Last year I spoke of the transition in the administration of our Court. Associate Chief Justices Faith Finnestad and Lise Maisonneuve took on their new roles with great energy and enthusiasm and are now well settled in their roles. I am deeply grateful to both of them for their hard work and support. I also pay special tribute and my heartfelt thanks to former Associate Chief Justices Peter Griffiths, John Payne and Don Ebbs for their guidance and support over the years.

I have also enjoyed strong support from a remarkable team of regional senior judges and regional senior justices of the peace who have served during my term in office. Their leadership is critical to our ability to carry out the administration of the Court and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them all for their dedication.

I would especially like to mention Senior Advisory Justice of the Peace Andrew Clark. Like me, this is his last Opening of Courts as such. His Worship Clark has served for close to ten years in this role – supporting and advising me and the Associate Chief Justice – Co-ordinator of the Justices of the Peace. He has been instrumental in designing, developing and delivering justice of the peace educational programming and has been a constant source of support and guidance to his colleagues.

We have had other recent changes in our administration. Justice Kathleen McGowan’s term as Regional Senior Judge in the West region concluded and we welcomed Regional Senior Justice Stephen Fuerth.

We are also pleased to announce the appointment of Regional Senior Justices of the Peace Theodore Hodgins and Raymond Zuliani in the Northeast and Northwest regions. On behalf of the Court I thank Her Worship Kathleen Bryant and His Worship Bruce Leaman for their valuable contribution as Regional Senior Justices of the Peace.

I have been surrounded and supported by an extraordinary group of talented and dedicated women and men who make up our Ontario Court of Justice. I wish to thank all judges and justices of the peace of our Court for their dedication and commitment to providing the highest quality of judicial services to the people of Ontario.

I inherited an extraordinary institution from my two predecessors – Justices Sid Linden and Brian Lennox. I am indebted to them for their guidance and encouragement.

I sometimes think of my time as Chief Justice as being a member of a jazz ensemble, in which we each take our turn leading the way, with our own ideas and innovations, but always returning to the central melody. I have had the privilege of being a member of this wonderful orchestra and for this I will always be truly grateful.