A judge accused of making offensive remarks about First Nations leaders and a justice of the peace alleged to have belittled people’s English skills are among the complaints recently made public by the bodies that discipline provincial judicial officers.
But that’s about all you get to know about these cases.
The names of the judge and justice of the peace are secret, because their cases were not forwarded to a discipline panel for a public hearing. They also retired before further action could be taken.
The complaints are included in the 2014 annual report from the Justices of the Peace Review Council and the 2014-2015 annual report from the Ontario Judicial Council, both of which were quietly posted online this week after they were tabled at the legislature.
The move to table the documents came two weeks after the Star highlighted that the Ministry of the Attorney General was sitting on the reports and failing to release them in a timely fashion — the second time in almost three years that the issue had been raised publicly.
The JP review council’s report was submitted to the ministry well over a year ago, in November 2015, while the judicial council’s report was sent in February 2016.
“These annual reports proceeded through the normal tabling process and you happened to inquire shortly before they were tabled at the legislature,” said ministry spokesperson Emilie Smith.
Toronto lawyer Rocco Galati said all information about a complaint against a judicial officer, including their name, should be made public to preserve confidence in the judiciary.
“Without naming them, there is no accountability,” he said. “When people lose confidence in the independence and the fairness of the judiciary, it is the beginning of the end to the rule of law.
“I am of the opinion that we are right on the cusp of that in Canada, because of this privileged, Versaillian attitude of the government and the judiciary itself toward citizens’ concerns.”
The secrecy surrounding how complaints against judges are handled was once challenged by the Toronto Star and the Criminal Lawyers’ Association. But the judicial council dismissed the case in 2015, and pointed to the fact that summaries of complaints are included in the annual reports.
“This ensures a level of public accountability,” the council said.
Legislation requires the attorney general to table the reports in the legislature before they can be made public. The ministry had previously told the Star that that would happen once the legislature resumes for its next session.
But Smith told the Star this week that when the legislature is not sitting, a report can be given to the clerk of the legislature and is then considered to have been tabled.
The annual reports offer a glimpse into how most complaints are handled in secret. Rarely is a complaint forwarded to a public discipline hearing, where a panel has the power to suspend a judicial officer or recommend to the attorney general that they be fired.
Most complaints received by both councils were dismissed, or referred to the chief justice for a follow-up, or led to the council providing the judicial officer with advice on improvement.
According to the judicial council report, four complaints about a single incident related to comments made by a judge after he sentenced an accused person.
“In post-sentencing remarks, the judge criticized a member of the offender’s First Nation community by name and First Nations leadership generally,” reads the summary of the complaint. Details of the remarks were kept secret.
One of the complainants was an organization representing First Nations communities, who alleged “that the comments constituted a direct, unprovoked and personal attack on the particular individual and leaders of Ontario First Nations. The complainant questioned how any First Nation person could reasonably expect an objective, unbiased and non-prejudicial hearing from the judge.”
The council was barred by legislation from further investigating the judge because he retired.
Over at the JP review council, several complaints were received about courtroom conduct by a justice of the peace or possibly several justices of the peace who retired before the complaints process could continue. The registrar for the council said she could not confirm if the complaints related to the same JP.
“In the annual report, the council has provided a summary of each complaint, the findings and the statement of the disposition in accordance with the legislation,” said Marilyn King. “It’s the council’s report and I am not in a position to comment beyond the report.”
One complainant said that the JP “was harassing and belittling people who could not speak English,” according to the annual report. “The complainant alleged His Worship created an environment of fear and hostility and was behaving like a bully . . . He also alleged that His Worship harassed him by questioning his religious headgear.”
Another complainant spoke of a JP who “‘called out individuals for crossing their legs, slouching, leaning on their hands, etc.’ She said that he constantly yelled at people, interrupting the prosecutor, wasting time and showing no respect for the citizens attending the courtroom.”
Yet another individual complained that a JP told her “she looked argumentative,” and allegedly told her she could not show up for court late and expect to plead not guilty. She said that after she apologized, the JP maintained what he said earlier and refused to hold a trial, instead adjourning the matter.
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