Ontario Attorney General Caroline Mulroney and the province’s chief justices stressed the importance of the role of the judiciary in a courtroom Thursday, just as tension between the courts and the Doug Ford government remained high over the Ontario premier’s plans to do an end-run around a court decision barring him from slashing the size of Toronto Council.
It was the annual opening of the courts ceremony at the downtown Toronto courthouse, where the chief justices of all three levels of court in this province — the Ontario Court of Justice, Superior Court of Justice and Court of Appeal — provided updates on the state of their courts and what they were doing to improve access to justice.
“I wish to underscore the vital importance of keeping the public’s confidence in our justice system at the forefront of public policy decision-making,” Superior Court Chief Justice Heather Smith said from the dais, while Mulroney sat in the front row next to Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell.
“Public confidence in the courts is a cornerstone of our justice system. It is fundamental to the rule of law. If lost, it would be very difficult to regain.
“Inevitably, there will be tensions between the judicial, executive and legislative branches of government. However, I am confident that with mutual respect among the different branches of government, the public’s trust in our democratic institutions will be maintained.”
The Superior Court was the forum for the legal challenges against the Ford government’s bill to slash the size of Toronto city council. A judge struck it down Monday, finding it violated the right to freedom of expression of candidates and voters.
While the government appeals that ruling, it has also decided to re-introduce legislation to cut city council by invoking, for the first time in Ontario’s history the notwithstanding clause, which allows governments to override many Charter rights, including freedom of expression.
“I was elected. The judge was appointed,” Premier Doug Ford said at a press conference Monday, announcing he would invoke the clause. “A democratically elected government, trying to be shut down by the courts — that concerns me more than anything.”
Mulroney, who, as chief law officer of the Crown, has faced criticism for defending the government’s move, thanked the judges and lawyers gathered Thursday for their service.
“While we don’t always line up on the same side of a particular issue, these differences do not stand in the way of our shared commitment to the common good,” she said in her remarks. “It is, indeed, through the most diligent execution of our unique mandates that we most effectively serve the people.
“A strong justice system demands we do so.”