2004 Report of the Superior Court of Justice
CHIEF JUSTICE SMITH’S REMARKS
OPENING OF THE COURTS OF ONTARIO
JANUARY 5, 2004
Your Honour Lieutenant Governor Bartleman, Chief Justices, judicial colleagues, Mr. Attorney, Mr. Treasurer, distinguished representatives of the bar, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen:
It is a great privilege for me to be here to speak to you this afternoon at the opening of courts ceremony as the Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Justice. C’est un grand honneur d’être ici aujourd’hui en tant que juge en chef de la Cour supérieure de justice à l’occasion de la cérémonie d’ouverture des cours.
As we begin 2004, the 214th year of our court, I think it is important to remind ourselves of the role courts play in the lives of the citizens of our province. As our society becomes more complex, our court system must continue to respond to the needs of the public by providing a justice system that is effective, accessible and affordable.
The challenge to continue to make our court system responsive to that public need is not, of course, restricted to our province or indeed to our country. Throughout the common law world, there has been concern over the problems which exist in the resolution of disputes by the courts.
I am proud to say that, in this province, we are dealing with these problems head on thanks to the hard work of a number of people – including members of the many bar organizations represented here today, the judiciary, and officials from both the provincial and federal governments.
A few weeks ago an article appeared on the front page of the New York Times regarding a study that indicated that, although the number of lawsuits commenced in the United States Federal Court since 1962 has increased fivefold – the raw number of civil trials has actually dropped. Among the possible explanations given for this dramatic reduction in trials was the view put forward by one expert who said “the striking problem is that we have generated a procedure that is way too expensive if actually employed.”
Without in any way suggesting that the same situation exists here in Ontario, I make reference to the United States experience only to highlight the increasing importance for all participants in the administration of justice, of continuing to be vigilant to ensure that as society becomes more complicated, our justice system continues to be effective, accessible and affordable.
Regardless of the complexity of society and the issues our courts are called upon to resolve, we must never allow the court process to become unduly complex. This is the challenge for all of us as we look to the future. We must never forget that our courts exist to serve the public. If we ever ignore that fact, the true significance of our courts – the very reason for their existence – will be lost.
As we begin the New Year, I wish to acknowledge the hard work of the judges and masters of the Superior Court of Justice. They continue to give, as they have in the past, unstintingly of themselves to serve the citizens of this province.
Au nom de la Cour supérieure de justice de l’Ontario, je souhaite la bienvenue à vous tous qui travaillez toujours avec tellement de dévouement au service des Ontariens et des Ontariennes.
On behalf of the Superior Court of Justice I wish to thank each judge and master of this court for their dedication. Their commitment is reflected not only in those visible hours in the courtroom and in considering and writing judgments or jury charges, but also in the countless hours required to keep current in changes in the law and societal issues.
MINISTRY OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
I wish to publicly thank the Attorney General and his officials for their assistance. I would especially like to thank Deputy Attorney General Mark Freiman and Assistant Deputy Attorney General Debra Paulseth for all of their support and assistance in the past year. I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Honourable Michael Bryant on his appointment as Attorney General. I look forward to working with you Mr. Attorney, in the New Year, along with the many fine officials from the Ministry of the Attorney General as we all attempt to deal with our respective challenges relating to the administration of justice in the province.
The judicial complement of the Superior Court of Justice currently consists of 294 judges, including 63 supernumerary judges, 4 full-time masters, 3 per diem masters, 13 case management masters, along with 3 full-time and 5 per diem Small Claims Court judges. In addition there is a very large roster of over 375 Deputy Judges who serve in the Small Claims Court.
The advice and guidance I receive from Associate Chief Justice Cunningham, the 8 Regional Senior Judges and the Senior Judge of the Family Branch, are both welcome and appreciated. In the past year there have been 5 changes to the Council of Regional Senior Judges. In the East Region, Madam Justice Monique Métivier replaced former Regional Senior Judge Douglas Cunningham who was appointed Associate Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Justice. In the Central South Region, Regional Senior Judge James Kent replaced former Regional Senior Judge Eugene Fedak who elected supernumerary status. In the South West Region, Regional Senior Judge Lynne Leitch replaced former Regional Senior Judge Doug McDermid who elected supernumerary status. In the North East Region, Regional Senior Judge John Poupore replaced former Regional Senior Judge Ian Gordon who returns to the court as a sitting judge for the North East Region. In Toronto Justice Robert Blair, formerly the Regional Senior Judge for Toronto, was appointed to the Court of Appeal for Ontario.
I want to express my appreciation and thanks to all five of the former Regional Senior Judges for their support and dedication to our court. Their contribution to the administration of justice has been outstanding. I would also like to wish the five new Regional Senior Judges the very best of luck as they assume their new duties. On behalf of the Superior Court of Justice, I particularly would like to give Justice Robert Blair, the newest member of the Court of Appeal for Ontario, our warmest congratulations on his appointment and best wishes as he assumes his new duties.
During the past year, 16 judges have been appointed to our court and 8 have retired. The new judges have all been of very high calibre and we are very privileged to welcome them all to our court.
Currently, we have two vacancies on the Superior Court. One here in Toronto as a result of the appointment of Justice Blair to the Court of Appeal for Ontario and a second vacancy that was created by the election of supernumerary status of Mr. Justice John McGarry in the South West Region.
Unfortunately, in the year 2003 three of our admired and dedicated judges passed away. They were the Honourable Madam Justice Moira Caswell, the Honourable Mister Justice Frank Roberts and the Honourable Mr. Justice Richard Trainor. Madam Justice Caswell was a member of our court who served in Brampton in the Central East Region. Mr. Justice Roberts served as a member of our court here in Toronto Region. Mr. Justice Trainor had been a member of the former High Court and upon merger of the courts in 1990 became the first Regional Senior Judge in Toronto. Upon electing supernumerary status, Mr. Justice Trainor sat as a judge in the North East Region. All three of these judges will be greatly missed, not only by their families and citizens of our province, but by all of their colleagues on the bench. They were not only wonderful judges, they were all exceptionally kind and caring people.
WORKLOAD OF THE SUPERIOR COURT
The Superior Court of Justice is the largest Superior Court in Canada and continues to have the greatest workload of any provincial Superior Court. The data for 2003 suggests that proceedings pending on the trial list in criminal, civil and family matters have increased since 2002.
With a greater proliferation of cases involving unrepresented litigants as well as other factors, the length and complexity of trials in the Superior Court has increased. In addition, much of a Superior Court judge’s time relates not only to trial work and motions but, as well, deals with matters such as case conferences and settlement conferences and many other tasks that are undertaken by the Superior Court judiciary and not necessarily reflected in court statistics.
Even at full complement, which our court has not been at for some time, the Superior Court continues to have the lowest judge-to-population ratio of any comparable court in Canada. The most recent data available suggests that over the last eight years, when the population of Ontario has increased by more than two million citizens, there has been no corresponding increase in judicial complement for the Superior Court of Justice to reflect that.
The Superior Court of Justice is committed to a fair and affordable process for family law litigants in all 50 Superior Court judicial centres in this province. Our 17 Superior Court locations that now exercise Unified Family Court jurisdiction are fortunate to have excellent support services provided by the Ministry of the Attorney General (including mediation, family law information centres, legal aid, supervised access, parenting information sessions, counselling, and assessments). These services are constantly working to improve the support available for families involved in the court process. As I indicated last year at this time, I would very much like to see these same services available at every one of the remaining 33 Superior Court sites in the province.
Our court continues to face challenges with the expansion of the Family Branch. The expansion of the Family Branch in 1999 made the Superior Court of Justice a court of first instance in child protection matters at these 17 court locations. We could not have anticipated that the change in legislation and its application would so greatly increase the volume of child protection work. We are striving to meet this challenge by assigning judges throughout the province in accordance with need. The assignment of judges in this manner ensures all the judicial resources of the Superior Court are available, to the greatest extent possible, to meet the needs of children at risk.
It is important at this time to recognize the significant contribution that has been made to the administration of justice by the judges appointed to the Family Court and those who have been assigned temporarily to the Family Court. They have demonstrated skill, commitment and dedication beyond that which could have been reasonably expected. In the aftermath of the 1999 expansion, it became apparent that the number of judges required to fulfill the responsibilities assigned to the family court had been underestimated, seriously so in some locations. In spite of this, the judges continued to work tirelessly for the benefit of the public and on behalf of the Superior Court I wish to thank them for their outstanding efforts.
The most important and significant goal of the expansion of the Family Branch of the Superior Court of Justice must be to provide the public with access to a properly resourced and supported Family Court that can provide an effective, efficient and dignified means to resolve all family matters. That being said, tremendous pressure has been placed on the Superior Court in order to deal with the increased workload generated by an increase in the child protection cases and to deal with them within the timelines required by statute.
I assure you that the provision of judicial resources for children at risk has been and will remain a top priority for the Superior Court. However, without additional resources, dealing with child protection cases in a timely manner will continue to present a challenge for our court in the future.
More than a year ago former Chief Justice LeSage wrote to the Attorney General of the day seeking an increase in the complement of judges of the Superior Court. I fully support former Chief Justice LeSage’s request in this regard and I look forward to working with the Attorney General and the federal Minister of Justice in addressing these judicial complement concerns.
I know the federal Minister of Justice has announced plans to further expand the Family Branch of the Superior Court within Ontario. I would urge both the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General to ensure that sufficient financial support and resources for such expansion are in place before any further expansion of the Family Branch occurs in order that the needs of the public are adequately provided for.
SMALL CLAIMS COURT
The Small Claims Court continues to be the busiest branch of this court. I fully expect that this trend will continue. The monetary jurisdiction of the court was increased to $10,000.00 in April of 2001. This court could not operate without the dedicated Small Claims Court judges and the practising lawyers who, by sitting as deputy judges, make a significant contribution to the administration of justice in this province. I express to each and every one of them our sincere gratitude for their hard work.
Comme vous le savez tous, notre but a toujours été d’administrer la justice dans les deux langues officielles du Canada. Je suis fière de vous annoncer que, grâce aux nominations de nouveaux juges bilingues, notre cour est présentement en mesure de mieux servir nos citoyens et citoyennes dans les deux langues officielles. Je suis convaincue que nous avons atteint notre objectif à cet égard.
Our court provides services to litigants in both of Canada’s official languages. We now have bilingual judicial capacity in all regions of the province. Our court is able to provide a judge to preside in either English or French to any member of the public in any region of the province who wishes a hearing in our court in either official language.
ONTARIO JUSTICE EDUCATION NETWORK
In 2003, the Ontario Justice Education Network completed its first year. Through the activity of the judiciary, the bar, the courts, and legal aid, many thousands of students, teachers, and others have developed constructive awareness of our justice system and the challenges it faces.
The Network, which meets twice a year with the shared goal of strengthening societal understanding of the justice system, now brings together Ontario’s three Chief Justices, the Department of Justice, the Ministry of the Attorney General, the Ministry of Education, the Law Society, the Advocates’ Society, the County & District Law Presidents’ Association, the Ontario Bar Association, the Ombudsman, Legal Aid Ontario, Community Legal Education Ontario, the Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario, Ontario History And Social Science Teachers Association, the Ontario Principals’ Council, the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres, and others.
The involvement of judges, lawyers and the courts in public education activities can only help to strengthen our justice system itself. Universal understanding is central to our democratic society. I thank the many individuals who have enthusiastically volunteered their participation.
Members of the Superior Court have been extremely active in volunteering their time to assist with OJEN – both in speaking with students and providing leadership in developing the courtrooms and classrooms program with other participants of the justice system. I am particularly grateful to Madam Justice Fran Kiteley for all of her hard work in helping to organize this endeavour.
Executive Director Taivi Lobu has done a masterful job in co-ordinating the initiatives throughout the province. Captain Doug Taylor has also dedicated countless hours in coordinating the visits of the high school students in Toronto. We are all very appreciative for the dedication shown by everyone involved in this project.
DISCOVERY TASK FORCE
I want to make reference to the tremendous work that has been done by all the members of the Discovery Task Force under the Chair of Mr. Justice Colin Campbell of our court, and Associate Chair Assistant Deputy Attorney General Debra Paulseth. The Discovery Task Force was appointed by the Attorney General and Chief Justice LeSage in 2001 to undertake a comprehensive review of Ontario’s civil discovery process, identify problems with the current process and recommend options for reform.
The Task Force was mandated to consider all aspects of Ontario’s discovery process, including documentary, written and oral discovery, and discovery related motions and to develop options for a more efficient process.
The report of the Task Force has now been released with a number of recommendations to help resolve the difficult issues relating to the discovery process. I want to thank Mr. Justice Campbell along with all the members of the Task Force for their efforts and recommendations regarding this important initiative.
TORONTO CASE MANAGEMENT
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Madam Justice Susan Lang who is the Chair of the Case Management Implementation Review Committee, and the members of that committee who are currently working on issues relating to case management in the Toronto Region.
The mandate of the committee is to review all aspects of the case management process, identify the best practices and problems with the existing process and make recommendations for reform. The committee will consider case management techniques, the interconnection between case management and mandatory mediation, timeliness, numbers of attendances and how we are utilizing our resources. I look forward to the committee’s findings once the work of the committee has been completed.
In closing, I am most grateful for the hard work of all of the members of the Superior Court of Justice over the past year. The public has been well served by their dedication and unfailing commitment to justice. I am confident that the members of our court will continue to serve the public with the same level of distinction in 2004.
 New York Times, December 14, 2003.
 Although 17 judicial positions were added in 1999, those positions were created to cover the transfer from the Ontario Court into our expanded Family Branch.