So, what is this ceremony and why do we do it? The Courts don’t actually close, so why do we have to open them?
In a 2012 blog post, Dean Lorne Sossin of Osgoode observed that:
“While Courts once closed down during the summer, this is a relic of a more civilized past. While vacations still mean a somewhat slower pace and greater challenges in scheduling matters, the Courts are open year round, and a trial in September looks pretty much like a trial in August. Unlike academic years, it is not as if one group of lawyers or judges graduate one year or start the next. Vacancies are filled throughout the year and deciding to “open” the Courts in September is pretty much an arbitrary gesture.”
Arbitrary or not, the ceremony was steeped in tradition and now acts as a way for the judiciary to reflect on the year that has passed and advise the Bar on priorities for the upcoming year.
The ceremony was held in the large Courtroom 6-1 at 361 University Ave and guests passed through two rows of police officers (including an RCMP officer in ceremonial uniform) standing guard at the door. Then there were a lot of speeches about the state of our judicial system, where it is improving, and where it is still stuck in the past century.
Speakers included Chief Justice George Strathy, Chief Justice of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice Heather Smith, Chief Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice Lise Maisonneuve, LSUC Treasurer Paul Schabas, and the Attorney General of Ontario Yasir Naqvi (among others). Chief Justice Strathy’s speech can be found here.
The judiciary noted the following priorities for the upcoming year(s):
- Meeting the new timelines set by the Supreme Court of Canada in R v. Jordan for scheduling and hearing criminal trials;
- Expanding the Unified Family Court throughout the province by the year 2025;
- Focusing on several aboriginal justice issues that were highlighted in the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission;
- Continue advocating for the appointment of judges on an expedited basis. (There are currently 11 - soon to be 12- vacancies in Ontario, with 5 in Toronto. One vacancy has existed for over 18 months); and
- The “urgent” need for the modernization of the courts. Justice Smith made a call specifically for the ability for judges and registrars to access case management information in the courtroom, for judges to be able to issue signed orders from the courtroom, for judges and the Bar to be able to access legal research with Wifi from the courtroom, and reliable teleconferencing and videoconferencing to be available in at least principal courtrooms. (These requests seem pretty basic to me and I am surprised we don’t have this technology in place already. This continual call for the modernization of our Courts is getting old.)
After the speeches, the Catzman Award for Professionalism & Civility was awarded to Donald Bayne by the late Justice Marvin A. Catzman’s daughter.
The only non-scripted part of the ceremony was when a protester unfurled a banner and started asking for the “impeachment” of a judge for declaring him mentally incompetent. The situation was quickly diffused by the RCMP and other police officers on hand for the ceremony.
The fun part of the evening was the cocktail party that followed. Where else do you get to hobnob and brush elbows with so many judges, the Attorney General of Ontario, the Treasurer of the Law Society and the presidents of all of the legal associations in Ontario?
So the Courts are officially “open”. Now, do you think they are open to change?