Opening of Courts Speech
The Honourable Lise Maisonneuve
Chief Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice
October 3, 2022
Thank you everyone for gathering here today for this year’s Opening of the Courts.
It is a great honour to be joined by Associate Chief Justice Michal Fairburn and Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz.
And warm greetings to Owen Rees, Acting Assistant Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice Canada representing the Minister of Justice and Attorney General David Lametti and Attorney General Doug Downey.
I join Associate Chief Justice Fairburn and Chief Justice Morawetz in welcoming you all to today’s ceremony. Thank you for attending.
Let me begin today by congratulating Chief Justice Strathy on his retirement.
I wish to thank him for his strong support for advancing our justice system.
His leadership and commitment to working among the three Courts has helped the courts move forward, tremendously.
Thank you … Chief Justice Strathy for your exceptional wisdom, compassion and support both as friends and colleagues.
Please join me in wishing the Chief Justice and his wife, Elyse, great health and all the very best as they begin their next chapter.
I am so very pleased to say that today’s gathering marks the first in-person Opening of the Courts since 2019.
And so, we can finally come together and celebrate the progress that the Courts have made.
It’s also an opportunity to renew our commitment to transforming our justice system.
And even though we need to be cautious as we move forward, I am optimistic that we are working towards a successful recovery.
When I became the Chief Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice almost 8 years ago, I set out to innovate and modernize the courts where I could.
Working together with so many of you … we accomplished exactly that.
In fact, … we accomplished far more than we anticipated … thanks to the changes forced upon us by life during a pandemic.
But that’s true of almost every aspect of our lives. Health care, education and much more has been transformed by technology adapting to the pandemic … and the justice system was no different.
We must remember, challenges are opportunities.
And the pandemic has been our opportunity to reinvent the way we do our vitally important work.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of so many people, we were able to make our justice system more resilient, dynamic, and robust; so that today, we can begin to discuss where we go next because we are building on those innovations and initiatives.
We’ll start by celebrating the people in this room who are making excellent contributions. There are a few changes to share, and many people to thank.
Then we’ll talk about how we’ll continue to plan for a long-term vision of a modern justice system — one that is innovative, accessible, resilient, and equitable — one that will continue to deliver justice to meet people’s rapidly changing needs.
We need to pay special attention to four main areas: modernization; backlog; increased accessibility; and enhanced attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
These are important to our courts and to our citizens.
Because we have a duty to make sure our work always acknowledges and promotes reconciliation efforts. And we must always make sure that the most vulnerable members of our society can access the justice system fairly and equitably.
Now … you should know that this year, our administrative team will see some changes.
This is the last Opening of the Courts ceremony that Justice Lise Parent will attend as Senior Advisory Family Judge.
Justice Parent has been a standout in this position for the last three years. Her knowledge, strong insight, and commitment to the leadership of this Court have been exemplary.
And speaking personally, I have relied on Justice Parent a lot throughout the pandemic, and I am thankful for her sound advice that helped make sure our family courts continued to be available to all Ontarians.
Thank you, Justice Parent.
And speaking of keeping the doors to our courts open … virtually or otherwise … there is a very long list of people to thank. Together, you worked tremendously hard to make sure the courts not only stayed open but also changed for the better.
I’ll start by saying it has been an honour and a privilege to work with Chief Justice Strathy and Chief Justice Morawetz in managing the operation and modernization of our three courts over the past few years.
Thank you to the members of the Court’s administrative team who — day in and day out — are dedicated to finding practical, insightful solutions to improve access to justice for all Ontarians: Associate Chief Justice Hall, Associate Chief Justice Nicklas, Senior Advisory Justice of the Peace Scully, together with our skilled team of Regional Senior Justices, Regional Senior Justices of the Peace, Senior Justice of the Peace Moffatt, Senior Indigenous Justice of the Peace Agnew, Local Administrative Justices, and Local Administrative Justices of the Peace.
Over the last year, 18 judges have been appointed to our Court. We are fortunate to have such a talented group of people. Your unwavering dedication and adaptability have helped make sure that the people of Ontario continue to access our services.
Thanks, also, to the Association of Ontario Judges and the Association of Justices of the Peace of Ontario for their continued support. I also recognize the significant contributions of both the Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee and the Justice of the Peace Appointments Committee.
Although the judiciary and government have distinct roles and different responsibilities in the administration of justice, the Court has worked closely with the Ministries of the Attorney General and Solicitor General as well as municipalities to tackle the challenges presented by the pandemic. I thank Attorney General Doug Downey and Deputy Attorney General David Corbett for their assistance; and for the tremendous efforts and support provided by Ministry staff – in particular, the Court Services Division, Criminal Law Division, and the Recovery Secretariat. I also thank Assistant Deputy Attorney General for Court Services, Beverly Leonard and Assistant Deputy Attorney General for the Recovery Secretariat, Samantha Poisson, for their continued exemplary efforts.
Thanks, as well, to former Assistant Deputy Attorney General for the Criminal Law Division, Susan Kyle, who recently retired. Thank you for your professionalism and proven dedication to improving our justice system.
As you know, Randy Schwartz, is the new Assistant Deputy Attorney General for the Criminal Law Division. I extend a warm welcome and look forward to working with him in the coming months.
A huge thank you to the directors and managers of Court Services and the many front-line court staff — including our Trial Coordinators — for their diligent efforts in helping maintain the operations of the court. As well, a special thank you to the court clerks. If it wasn’t for their perseverance in the face of what at times felt like constant change, our courts couldn’t have functioned properly.
I also need to acknowledge the sustained diligence of the staff in my office. Led by Lori Newton, and now Kathleen Murphy, they work hard and give excellent advice to support both the regional offices and my office. Their contributions have been vital … and they have been a real pleasure to work with.
Finally, many thanks to our justice partners — members of the bar, police, correctional services, Legal Aid Ontario, municipalities, and service providers in the areas of family, criminal and provincial offences practice.
I am extremely grateful for the hard work of everyone who makes it possible to operate our courts and to those who are helping us to do that in new ways that lead to a more effective administration of justice.
Let’s talk about some of the ways we’re striving to make the most of the unique challenges that have shown themselves to be opportunities.
First, I want to touch on modernizing our justice system.
A. Modernization of the Court
When we needed to be six feet apart, technology helped bring us together.
The challenge of social distancing helped us focus on other effective ways to carry on, like virtual appearances.
How we continue to use technology will be essential as we modernize our courts.
A hybrid model of justice that can accommodate virtual, in-person and dual proceedings, with the ability to seamlessly transition from video to in person, across all regions, is essential.
That means the technology to support those proceedings is essential, too.
I’m talking about everything from electronic scheduling tools, to enhanced video technology, and more access to this option across the institutions of the justice system.
We still have a lot to learn, and we will continue to explore the right balance of efficiency while maintaining dignity; effectiveness balanced with access.
Although there is still much work to be done, I am excited to highlight some of the great initiatives that are underway:
- CaseLines is available at all thirty of our Ontario Court of Justice locations that hear family cases. We are also examining whether other proceedings can be added to CaseLines. Thank you to everyone who worked on this project, especially our court staff.
- We have also fully launched the e-Intake digital platform. This will simplify the electronic processes our courts deal with and it’s a significant step towards building a more efficient model of justice towards a paperless system.
- As Chief Justice Morawetz has mentioned, a new end-to-end digital case management system should make our courts more accessible and decrease delays. I am grateful to Paula Reid, Assistant Deputy Attorney General for Corporate Services Management and Jessica Smith, Director at Courts Digital Transformation and their staff for their work on this transformative initiative.
I also take the opportunity to acknowledge the outstanding work of the Justice Centres.
We have three pilot Justice Centres — Toronto Downtown East, Northwest Toronto and London — and I know that a great deal of work is being done in Kenora.
This pilot focuses on Indigenous accused and will explore a parallel approach based on both criminal and Indigenous restorative justice processes.
Justice Centres have proven to be a successful way for participants to address the social issues and root causes of crime, benefitting people and our society.
We hope that the government continues to invest and expand Justice Centres across the province.
B. Addressing the Backlog
Now, part of moving forward in modernizing our justice system, is addressing the backlog.
The Court is working to find effective solutions.
That is why I am pleased that the satellite and fly-in courts have re-opened.
Ensuring meaningful appearances in court whether virtually or in person is a priority.
Technology has allowed us to try creative scheduling strategies, enabling our courts to achieve speedier trials.
We call on all justice partners for support: While we have made great progress in equipping our courts with video technology, there is a vital need for more. And more importantly, we need additional staffing in our courts. We also need to recognize that the nature of the work has changed dramatically since the pandemic and ensure that staff in the justice system are supported appropriately as they deliver critical services to the court. Mr. Attorney, we look forward to continuing our dialogue about the needs in the system. I know that you are committed to ensuring that the staffing model is appropriate and reflective of a modern justice system.
C. Enhance Access to Justice
The pandemic exposed many susceptibilities in our court system, and no group was more affected more than vulnerable populations, including self-represented litigants.
Access to justice for all must not just be an objective, but a fundamental pillar of our justice system.
A true measure of any court system can be found in how we treat our most vulnerable participants.
I believe in our court system, and that’s why I’m calling for a commitment by all justice partners to deliver meaningful services to marginalized people.
We can do that by investing in Legal Aid.
We can do that by using technology to allow court appearances on a variety of platforms.
And we can do that by keeping our doors open to people who need to come in person.
As we build on our new normal, we must apply practices and use tools to provide better and more effective access to justice for all.
This is essential to a fair and equitable court system and enhances public confidence in the administration of justice.
D. Commitment to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
Finally, our Court continues to be committed to advancing equity, diversity and inclusion.
The Court’s Judicial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee and the Indigenous Initiatives Advisory Committee are a wealth of good advice and recommendations that help ensure the Court is on track with the objectives we share.
In the coming years, I also hope to see an increase in the diversity of judicial appointments.
Another key component of this commitment is the Court’s ongoing efforts to educate our judges and justices of the peace on a variety of social context issues, including the justice sector’s role in reconciliation.
This past year, an education program was dedicated to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and the response by our judicial colleagues was overwhelmingly positive.
I commend the Education Committee for all of their efforts.
Further, I am pleased to announce that we have 21 Indigenous Peoples Courts/Gladue courts across the province. The Court continues to make education about Indigenous culture and history, and the application of Gladue a priority.
This year, our Court marked the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, by offering a full education to the judiciary created by our Indigenous Initiatives Advisory Committee.
I thank them for their hard work in putting together such an exceptional program.
When I reflect on my years as Chief Justice of this Court, it is clear to me, that we are well positioned to use lessons learned from past challenges as the building blocks for future transformation.
I continue to be amazed by the strong, passionate, and constant dedication of everyone in the justice system.
No matter what our respective roles and responsibilities, we all share a strong commitment to the common goal of improving the delivery of justice for the people of Ontario.
This dedication was put to the test during the pandemic, but it did not waiver.
Rather, its magnitude was amplified.
As we move forward, I hope that everyone continues in this commitment.
Consultation and collaboration are the key ingredients to reform. We are stronger and more effective when we work together.
Together, we will achieve more.