Chief Justice Lise Maisonneuve
Ontario Court of Justice
September 13, 2016
Madame et Monsieur les juges en chef. Monsieur le Procureur général Naqvi.
The beginning of a new judicial year is always a time to both reflect and celebrate.
In 1990, we became one Court with a single Chief Judge when the Ontario Court (Provincial Division) was created, bringing together the Provincial Courts (Criminal Division) and the Provincial Courts (Family Division).
The memorandum of understanding between the Chief Justice of the Court and the Attorney General, first signed in 1993, serves as the cornerstone of that administrative structure by articulating the respective roles and responsibilities of both institutions. I am happy to announce that – after 25 years since the creation of our Court – the Attorney General and I signed the most recent version of this important document in August 2016.
The three Chiefs who came before me – Sidney Linden, Brian Lennox and Annemarie Bonkalo – put in place the administrative structure that served to assert and reinforce our independence and commitment to meeting the needs of the public. I acknowledge all of them for their vision and determination in beginning the process of modernizing our Court that continues to this day. Sid and Brian – who are with us here today – thank you.
I am proud of our Court’s solid foundation which would not be as firmly grounded without the collaborative relationships we have built over the years with others in the justice system.
The Ontario Court of Justice enjoys strong cooperative connections with both the Court of Appeal and the Superior Court of Justice and the Chiefs of those Courts – Chief Justice Strathy and Chief Justice Smith. I thank both of you.
I am grateful to the Deputy Attorney General Patrick Monahan and Assistant Deputy Attorney General of Court Services, Sheila Bristo for their ongoing support and leadership.
I extend a warm thank you to the former Attorney General Meilleur. Together, we had a productive working relationship – candid, professional and always respectful of our roles. I look forward to working with Attorney General Naqvi. I am certain we can work together to accomplish positive changes given your great energy and enthusiasm.
I thank all of our judicial officers– both judges and justices of the peace – for their commitment to constantly improving the Ontario Court of Justice, by embracing the important changes we have implemented over the past years and those we are continuing to introduce. Our Court sits at almost 200 distinct court locations across the province. Wherever our Court is found in Ontario, our judges and justices of the peace strive to deal with all those who come before them fairly, impartially and with respect.
I am grateful for the strong support and guidance provided by the Court’s administrative judges, including the Regional Senior Judges and Justices of the Peace, together with the Local Administrative Judges and Justices of the Peace. In particular, thank you to the Associate Chief Justices Peter DeFreitas and Faith Finnestad. Your ongoing contributions to the Court are appreciated equally by me and our Court.
Over the course of the past year, we have had several changes in both our Court’s administration and composition.
We welcomed a new Regional Senior Judge in the East Region, Jean Legault. I thank Justice Hugh Fraser for his committed service in that role.
Regional Senior Justice of the Peace Brian Norton has been appointed to that position in the Central East Region.
I take this opportunity to acknowledge our Senior Advisory Family Judge, Debra Paulseth, who will step down in December 2016. The first to hold this recently created position, Justice Paulseth invested tremendous effort in defining the role.
Thirteen new justices of the peace were appointed to our Court in April 2016. Over the course of the year, 17 new judges joined our Court. I thank all of the members of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee and the Justice of the Peace Appointments Advisory Committee for the efforts they invest in insuring the fair and rigorous appointments process of our Court’s judicial officers.
As we celebrate our many accomplishments, we also reflect on the challenges ahead. As you heard from Chief Justice Strathy, the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision, R. v. Jordan, has affirmed the need for our continued strong commitment to timely justice by implementing more efficient procedures. Our Court is among the group of courts in Canada that have developed – and are continuously refining – robust case management and trial scheduling processes.
Our objective is to deliver fair, impartial justice to those who come before us while seeking to avoid or minimize unnecessary delay and appearances. I see Jordan as a solid confirmation of our Court’s reconsideration of its roles and approach to its work.
The Supreme Court of Canada made it clear that “real change” will only occur if all participants in the criminal justice system work together in a coordinated, co-operative manner. While recognizing that we have distinct and independent roles, we are fully committed to working diligently and collaboratively with the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, the Criminal Law Division of the Ministry of the Attorney General, Legal Aid Ontario, Court Services Division and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to develop both short- and long-term strategies to ensure that our citizens’ constitutional rights to be tried within a reasonable time is respected.
These efforts build upon our ongoing work in our criminal courts and specifically build upon the efforts of the OCJ Criminal Modernization Committee which I co-chair with the Deputy Attorney General, Patrick Monahan. Formed last year, the committee’s initiatives have been productive. Our shared concerns about pre-trial detention, trial delays and continuations inform our work and the initiatives we undertake.
We continue our work supporting the role of the judge in conducting meaningful criminal pre-trials through a recently developed set of judicial pre-trial best practices. Now in use at many courthouses across the province, the best practices reflect a real culture shift in the processes of our Court. We are grateful for the pilot funding Legal Aid Ontario is providing to support the introduction of our JPT best practices.
As we work to achieve early and fair resolutions in both criminal and family law, other significant Court innovations include a variety of efficient, practical operational solutions.
Many of our significant initiatives involve the introduction of technology into criminal court processes, including, for example, the implementation of an electronic scheduling tool for trials conducted by judges. An e-intake process which will permit the Court to receive informations, and to confirm or deny process electronically is currently in development. We are also collaborating with the defence bar and correctional facilities on an electronic initiative which will allow defence counsel to meet with their in-custody clients remotely.
The Ontario Court of Justice continues to be known for its innovations in its family courts, particularly in the areas of case management, simplified procedures and proportionate hearings.
Progress continues as well on the Cross-Over Youth Project with the goal of supporting young people who are involved with both child welfare agencies and the youth justice system. Collaborating with groups from across the youth justice system, the Court is involved in pilot projects in Ontario communities with the goal of coordinating the effective community and court responses to the needs of cross-over youth.
Our partnership with the Superior Court, the Office of the Children’s Lawyer and the Law Foundation of Ontario, on the Views of the Child Project is ongoing. This project, which is currently being piloted in several Ontario Court of Justice and Superior Court locations, serves to give children who are directly affected by cases in which their families are involved a voice in those proceedings.
As Chief Justice Strathy and Chief Justice Smith have indicated, our Court is working closely with the Superior Court of Justice and the provincial government to make Unified Family Court a reality across Ontario. At this point in time, we have an unparalleled opportunity and commitment of both levels of government and the Ontario judiciary to effect this province-wide expansion. It is an ambitious but wholly achievable goal to improve service to the public.
One of our Court’s great strengths continues to be its education programming. We our currently evaluating the education we provide to our new judicial officers. Anticipating a significant number of retirements, we face the critical issue of determining how we’ll best nurture the new appointments and pass along the knowledge, skills and wisdom of our judicial officers to new judges and justices of the peace. To that end, we’ll be reviewing the formal education we offer new appointments to determine if it is both current and effective in its approach and substance.
Over the past year, our Court has had important educational initiatives for both judges and justices of the peace devoted to indigenous issues, and in particular skills-based training in cultural competence, as outlined in the Calls to Action contained in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report. We know our work is not complete, and we are working to meet the challenges with determination and respect.
To ensure that the reforms we are instituting become effective elements of the workings of our courts, I am committed to partnering collaboratively not only within our Court but also with all those who make up our justice system. Our courts and our judicial officers could not function without the dedicated and diligent approach to their work taken by the people of Court Services Division, members of the bar, the police and other service providers in the family, criminal and provincial offences practice areas. Thank you all for so ably meeting the needs of the public.
Our Court’s agenda is an ambitious one. I know the members of our Court are ready to work together –with enthusiasm, energy and dedication – to deliver on the initiatives I have outlined for you today. We are poised to embark on an exciting year ahead.
I thank you all for attending this ceremony. Merci.