Serving Toronto's most liveable community with the Annex Gleaner

EDITORIAL: Ford‘s actions “reflect a juvenile understanding of the role of the judiciary” (Mar. 2024)

April 7th, 2024 · No Comments

In the wake of Premier Doug Ford’s move to politicize the Ontario judiciary by only “appointing like-minded judges” whom he says will put more people in jail, three former chief justices have criticized  the move, saying that “judges do not take orders from government.”

It was revealed by the Toronto Star a month ago that Ford has appointed two former political staffers to the judicial appointments advisory committee which recommends candidates for judges and justices-of-the-peace in the Ontario Court of Justice. The ostensibly arm’s-length body now has his former deputy chief of staff as its chair. When this was revealed, Ford was unapologetic; he was not seeking the most qualified people to be judges, he wanted only the “like-minded.” Former Chief Justices Sidney Linden, Brian Lennox, and Annemarie Bonkalo have expressed a legitimate worry: “We are concerned that such a suggestion [of a “like-minded judiciary”], if not corrected, may discourage otherwise qualified  candidates from applying for appointment.” In other words, if you don’t think like Doug, don’t bother.

The Federation of Ontario Law Associations (FOLA) said that Ford’s comments “reflect a juvenile understanding of the role of an independent judiciary. We would expect this sort of commentary from a MAGA [Make America Great Again] Republican, not the premier of Ontario,” said FOLA Chair Douglas Judson. We have all seen what happens south of the border where media will routinely report on whether or not the accused landed a Republican- or Democratic-appointed judge. This changes whether or not we think the process will be fair and impartial. 

Ten years ago, when Doug Ford was a Toronto city councillor, he was called upon to do jury duty. He didn’t think he should have to do it, telling the Toronto Sun, “The person I convict…should not know who I am” sparking a strong rebuke from Superior Court Justice Michael Quigley about the importance of respecting the presumption of innocence and of the need to review evidence of crime before a “conviction” can be rendered. Ford seemed not to understand the process or was not prepared to accept it: The point of the courts is to determine guilt or innocence. The case ended in a mistrial as lawyers alleged that Ford had tainted the jury.

In Ford’s mind, then and now apparently, one is guilty at the point of arrest. Most people in Ontario’s jails are legally innocent. Eighty per cent of inmates are remanded in custody while they await trial or bail and have yet to be convicted of the crime they are charged with. That number is only growing with the majority of jails being over capacity. 

The Conservative government has made matters worse by underfunding the courts and Legal Aid. His response is that he will build more jails. “I’m sick and tired of judges letting these people out on bail. We’re going to hire tough judges, that’s what we are doing” said Ford. It’s not clear that denying bail ultimately lowers crime and keeps people safe. 

More often than not what is needed is mental health and substance abuse supports, affordable housing, and a livable income. All of which are provincial responsibilities. 

If more jails are the answer then why does the United States, with one of the highest levels of incarceration rates in the western world, have so much violent crime relative to Canada?

The bombastic way that Ford expresses himself, his insidious form of populism, sets us on course for a U.S.-style partisan justice system. Ford does not care about evidence of crime, or lack thereof, he just wants to been seen to be coming down hard on it. His is hardly the kind of mind we should seek to emulate on the bench.


Tags: General