One Ontario justice of the peace was alleged to have treated a man differently because he was of Middle Eastern descent; another was accused of ending court abruptly when there were still cases to be heard; and yet another JP was alleged to be using the title “Justice,” which is normally reserved for judges.
These are a handful of the complaints dealt with in 2018 by the Justices of the Peace Review Council that did not make it to public discipline hearings, but which were still considered serious enough to warrant a followup with the chief justice of the Ontario Court of Justice and in some cases, additional training for the JPs in question.
Summaries of the complaints — which, as required by legislation, contain no identifying information about the JPs — are contained in the 2018 annual report of the council, released last year.
Justices of the peace are appointed by the provincial government and earn approximately $132,000 a year. Clad in black robes and green sashes, they preside over bail hearings and cases dealing with non-criminal matters known as provincial offences, as well as sign off on search warrants.
The council, the independent body responsible for investigating and disciplining JPs, closed 45 complaints in 2018, nearly half of which were dismissed as not substantiated or did not amount to professional misconduct. Others were closed due to lack of jurisdiction, which usually means the complaint related to a justice of the peace’s decision-making powers, which is outside the council’s purview.
As for the rest, a handful were sent for public discipline hearings, some of which are ongoing, while five were referred to the chief justice. Because those five complaints were not sent for full hearings, the summaries contained in the annual report are the only glimpse into how they were handled.
One complaint was from a man of Middle Eastern descent who was appearing on behalf of his wife in court, as she was at home with their youngest child. The man wondered in his complaint if the justice of the peace was making stereotypical comments about Middle Eastern men, when she said: “It’s so awkward that you’re not willing to allow your wife to come.”
The man had said nothing to indicate he was forcing his wife to stay home, according to the complaint summary, “and the only explanation he could think of is that the justice of the peace assumed that because he was from the Middle East, he was forcing his wife to stay home.”
The complaints committee found in their review of the court transcript that the JP had taken issue with the man appearing on behalf of his wife, and had asked “inappropriate questions about his children, and whether his wife was breastfeeding.” The transcript also showed the JP said, “OK, we’ll try it; if this is what you want. It’s your wife or your significant other or partner or whatever the term is.”
The committee noted that the JP’s conduct “appeared to be condescending, discourteous and unhelpful.” In her initial response to the committee, the JP said she could have used “more effective words,” but the committee was still concerned that she “may not fully understand how her conduct gave rise to the complainant’s perception that she was expressing stereotypes about Middle Eastern men or that she may be racist.”
The case was forwarded to the chief justice on the condition the JP take training that included cultural sensitivity, which was arranged. The JP said she felt confident she could apply the lessons learned from the training in court, and the case was closed.
Another complaint — this one received from a judge about a different JP — alleged that the justice of the peace was adamant about ending court at 4:30 p.m. even though there were still cases to be heard, including someone who was in custody.
When the Crown attorney said they still had matters to deal with, the JP allegedly said: “So I won’t be doing that; I’ll be releasing the clerks and reporter at 4:30,” and at another point allegedly said: “At 4:30 I’m going to stand up and go and so is the support staff.”
And sure enough, she was gone by 4:36 p.m., according to the complaint. She did return at 4:55 p.m. to deal with the person who was in custody, but when told by the Crown that there were still out-of-custody cases to be heard, she allegedly said: “Yes, I’ve made a call to the regional senior justice of the peace, they’re aware that I’m leaving and I guess they’ll deal with it however they wish to.”
Another JP was able to get to court by 5:30 p.m. to hear the remaining cases, according to the complaint’s summary, which was fortunate because, as the complaints committee noted, when a JP fails to address a case that is scheduled for court, “jurisdiction is lost over the person charged with an offence. If a person is in custody, the person would be released.”
The committee said it was concerned the JP showed a lack of respect for the rights of defendants and the criminal justice system. In her response to the committee, the JP said she had a medical appointment at 5 p.m., but also wanted to be respectful of the court staff’s time. However, in a subsequent response, she accepted she “chose the wrong approach” that day in court.
After meeting with the chief justice, the JP said she understood she made an error and undertook not to repeat it. The case was closed.
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Finally, in a complaint from a senior JP about another JP, the justice of the peace was accused of using the title “Justice” to describe herself in letters, emails and on her courthouse voicemail. The complaint also indicated that judges of the Superior Court and Ministry of the Attorney General staff had complained about being confused and misled by justices of the peace who on occasion used the title “Justice,” which the court has said should only be used by judges.
The complaints committee said several senior judges had already told this particular JP to stop using the “Justice” title, and instead use “Justice of the Peace.” After the complaint was referred to the chief justice, who met with the JP, she promised to drop the title.
The other two complaints related to a JP who was told to get additional training on reviewing forms under the Mental Health Act that can allow someone to be apprehended and placed in hospital, and another JP who was reminded about the need to be patient and courteous to everyone in court.