Kathleen Wynne silent on concerns over secrecy of justice of the peace complaints
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Premier Kathleen Wynne and her government remain silent on the secrecy around complaints filed against justices of the peace in Ontario.
Neither Wynne nor Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur have responded to revelations that the province is slow to release annual reports on the discipline of erring justices of the peace.
As Torstar News Service reported on Monday, the most recent information available about complaints against justices of the peace is from 2011. Before Torstar inquired about the delay last week, the newest data was from 2010.
The findings have renewed calls for action from the legal community, which has long pressed for reform of the justice of the peace system.
Ian Greene, an expert in judicial administration at York University, said the lag in releasing information about complaints “creates a lack of trust” and “demonstrates a lack of integrity by the leadership.”
Toronto criminal lawyer Daniel Brown expressed similar concerns.
“It is important for the public to see that (justice of the peace) complaints are being addressed in a timely manner,” he said. “Waiting three or four years to see the results of an anonymous inquiry … is unacceptable and does nothing to foster confidence in our justice system.”
Wynne’s office directed a request for comment on Monday to the attorney general’s ministry. Spokesman Brendan Crawley said the attorney general had “nothing to add” in response to Torstar's findings.
Ontario law requires the Justices of the Peace Review Council, an independent body that oversees disciplinary actions, to submit summaries of all complaints dealt with in the previous year to the attorney general. The annual report is tabled by the attorney general and made public on the review council’s website.
Crawley told Torstar on Friday that the 2012 and 2013 annual reports “are expected to be tabled in the upcoming months.”
The legislation prohibits the annual reports from indentifying the justice of the peace involved in a particular complaint. (Like doctors, teachers and lawyers facing allegations of misconduct, justices of the peace are only named in cases where a complaint leads to a formal conduct hearing.)
Despite the vital role Ontario’s 345 full- and part-time justices of the peace play in our courts — where they hear traffic charges, preside over bail hearings and issue search warrants — no legal education or experience is required, which some experts say is a significant problem.
“The justices of the peace often deal with quite high-profile issues,” said Don Stewart, a criminal law professor at Queen’s University. “It seems odd to me that there isn’t some legal qualification of some sort.”
In Nova Scotia, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia, there are several classifications of justices of the peace, and a law degree as well as some experience working in the field is a pre-requisite to handle the most serious cases.
In 2012, Liberal MPP David Orazietti introduced a private member’s bill aimed at bringing Ontario’s system more closely in line with these other provinces, but it died when the house was prorogued late that year.
The bill would have required justices of the peace, who are provincially appointed, to have a law degree and five years’ experience working as a lawyer.
Orazietti’s office said he is not available to comment this week.
Asked whether the province would consider reviving the bill, Crawley said only that it was “a private member’s bill — not a government bill,” and pointed to a 2011 Ontario appeals court decision, which he said “reaffirmed that a justice of the peace need not be legally trained to conduct a fair trial of provincial offences charges.”
Crawley cited a number of changes put in place in 2006 to update the appointment process, including requiring a university degree, comparable community college diploma or the equivalent; creation of a new appointments advisory committee; and strengthening the disciplinary powers of the Justices of the Peace Review Council.
But Greene, who was quoted in the backgrounder Orazietti prepared when he introduced the bill, said these changes are required to keep Ontario, which “has often been looked at as leader in reforming the justice system,” from falling further behind.
According to the backgrounder, the salary for full-time justices of the peace was $120,000 in 2012. Only 10 per cent held a law degree.