Remarks on the Rainy River District Judicial Vacancy
Remarks of Douglas W. Judson from the May 15, 2019 meeting of the Rainy River District Municipal Association. Check against delivery.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this important issue.
I wear a few hats in the community. So, in addition to being a councillor for the Town of Fort Frances, I am also the President of the Rainy River District Law Association. The Law Association is the association of lawyers for the district. We have about 17 members.
As many of you know, the Law Association, the Town of Fort Frances, and other communities have been vocal about resource shortages at the courthouse in Fort Frances for many years. The Fort Frances courthouse services the entire district – from Atikokan to Rainy River, including 10 First Nations in the southern part of Treaty 3 territory.
We lost our only provincial court judge in 2012. Our Crown Attorney retired a few years later – leaving a revolving door at the court for some time. The Crown Attorney role has since been staffed, and that office expanded with the addition of two Assistant Crown Attorneys. And make no mistake – we keep them busy. The statistics provided to you in our correspondence from July 2018 show that we have one of the highest per capita criminal case loads in the north.
But we are still without a judge. And as of today, there have been a total of 8 judicial vacancies advertised for the Northwest Region, and not one of those has been for Fort Frances. The most recent was circulated last month for an opening in Sioux Lookout, and a new judge was just appointed in Kenora earlier this week. We are the only judicial district in the province – perhaps in the country – that does not have its own resident judge.
The Law Association has raised this concern with both the current and previous provincial governments. The current challenge we are facing is that while the provincial government appoints the judges (and our riding is finally represented in government) the Regional Senior Justice decides where the judges are to be based.
Obviously, that discretion isn’t working out for the Rainy River District. So, what the Law Association is proposing is that the province pass legislation that guarantees a minimum of one Crown Attorney and one judge be appointed to and reside in each judicial district in the north. This would not take anything away from any other district, but would ensure that all Ontarians are provided with the same level of access to judicial and prosecutorial services, and efficiency of process.
That is the type of policy fairness that should guide the allocation of judges – one rooted in equality before and under the law. We are full-service community in most respects. We should not be treated like an inconvenient or remote satellite.
The unfilled vacancy at the Fort Frances court impacts all of us. It has led to disjointed hearing schedules and has prolonged the length of time matters are before the court. This ultimately drives up the cost to clients who are paying for representation, and puts stress on the strict timelines for prosecuting crimes that the justice system is required to follow.
The Law Association has written to the previous Attorney General and outlined these consequences in some detail. ‘Whistle-stop justice’ by visiting judges results in delayed bail hearings and trials, increases in costly adjournments, and increases in the policing, jail, and administrative costs to the surrounding justice infrastructure – which ultimately costs local and provincial taxpayers more money to keep the system operating.
(Keep in mind that the Town of Fort Frances bears the costs of court security and any overtime that is necessary when the court sits late. That expense has grown by hundreds of thousands of dollars in just a few years – it is one of Fort Frances’ single biggest uncontrollable costs.)
There are longer-term practical consequences to not having a resident judge as well. Not having a full-service court hurts our ability to attract new lawyers to the community who need a full-service court to ground and sustain their practices. As our local bar ages, we are eventually going to run into service shortages if new lawyers continue to find that there are more attractive practice opportunities in cities like Kenora.
While the letter that was shared with you was largely for information, the Law Association would appreciate any letters of support to Minister Rickford and Attorney General Caroline Mulroney that you can provide. Please keep us in the loop on those communications so that we can assert a united front as a district.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. Thank you.