By Chad Ingram
Published April 6 2017
The Ministry of the Attorney General is working on filling a lack of justices of the peace that is causing provincial offences and small claims court proceedings to be suspended in Minden for a year ministry communications staff say.
As reported previously in the Times local councils recently received notification those court proceedings which typically take place once a month in Minden will take place in Lindsay from July 1 2017 to July 1 2018.
Local politicians are concerned about the ramifications for the community – OPP costs affiliated the transportation of county residents unable to get themselves to Lindsay for one – and have openly questioned whether the move will be as temporary as is being presented.
Of the 48 justice of the peace positions in the province’s Central East region 12 are currently vacant after retirements and another three justices of the peace are off on long-term leave.
“The recruitment for 43 justices of the peace positions including eight in Central East region is well underway which is why applications are no longer being accepted” reads an email from the ministry.
The Times had inquired why the provincial courts website reads that applications for justices of the peace are longer being accepted when a lack of JPs exists.
“Simply put applications have already been received” the email reads. “The recruitment of candidates for appointment as justices of the peace is conduced by the the Justices of the Peace Appointment Advisory Committee which is an independent organization. The committee advertises vacancies reviews applications conducts interviews and selects candidates to recommend to the Attorney General.”
Correspondence from City of Kawartha Lakes courts operations manager Karen Dunn to Haliburton County council read that “there is a serious shortage of justices of the peace in the Central East Region which is negatively impacting our operations” and that “in March alone there will be 80 court closures in our jurisdiction due to this shortage and it is expected to get worse in the upcoming year.”
“We want to assure the community that there are absolutely no plans for ‘80 court closures’” the ministry email reads. “What you are referring to was the fact that across the Central East region there were 80 instances where justices of the peace were not scheduled in the courtrooms where they ordinarily sit.”
Dunn was in Minden Hills council chamber during a March 30 council meeting.
“We have a situation in Central East where the ministry is not replacing justices of the peace when they should be” Dunn said.
While her correspondence had read there were 11 justice of the peace vacancies in the Central East region Dunn told councillors another retirement since brought the total to 12.
“I’ll preface this first that I’m not shooting the messenger” said Minden Hills Reeve and County Warden Brent Devolin who’s not been trying to hide his anger at the turn of events. “You’re sitting in a hot seat. When they don’t have competency in hiring it’s problematic. This is a multi-year train wreck. People from Haliburton County have to travel 70 plus kilometres one way to go to court. This is not acceptable. This cannot continue. We are extremely unhappy. It is not considerate of the people of Haliburton County.”
Councillor Jean Neville asked if court proceedings could not be rotated out of Lindsay to Haliburton one day a month. The scheduling of court resources is done by the judiciary with the decision to suspend proceedings in Minden ultimately the decision of the region’s senior justice of the peace.
“Since it’s only one day a month court is held here can they not rotate that court out of Lindsay?” Neville asked.
“We can take a look at that” Dunn said “It has been looked at briefly.”
“Ever since this court was built this been an issue” said Councillor Jeanne Anthon pointing out that court had been shut down locally before under a government of a different stripe.
Anthon was a previous reeve of Anson Hindon and Minden prior to the creation of the amalgamated Township of Minden Hills.
“I’m hoping we can gather some more information to reinforce our position” Anthon said.
Chief administrative officer and treasurer Lorrie Blanchard was anticipating the township could lose some lease revenue. The province leases the space for the courthouse which doubles as council chambers from the municipality.