Sample of complaints received during 1995-1996
One complaint file included three letters alleging gender bias against women. These complaints, from a women's centre and two individual complainants, alleged that a judge in family law proceedings used abusive language and intimidated women who appeared before him. One individual complainant said she was threatened with jail if she did not allow her ex-husband access to the child, another said the judge would not allow her or her lawyer to present and defend her case. The judge said he had advised the first complainant in firm language of the consequences of continuing to deny access to the child but had not used inappropriate language, and had in fact provided full opportunity for the second complainant's case to be argued. The judge was supported in this by an affidavit from the lawyers involved, and subsequently by the directors of two other women's centres that the judge has been "respectful, fair and knowledgeable" in dealing with family issues. The complaint was found to be without merit.
A complaint of gender bias against men arose from an application for a reduction in child support payments. Initially, the complaint concerned a five-month delay in providing reasons for judgment but the reasons were delivered before the Council could act on the complaint. Subsequently, the complainant alleged that, as a result of his complaint about the judge, the reasons for judgment were one-sided and "meant to be punitive as well."
The judge denied that the decision reflected any bias against the applicant based on gender, but said the delay was the result of the voluminous pleadings and material, as well as the complexity of the issues involved. The complainant was advised of the judge's reply, and also advised that the appropriate remedy for the applicant's disagreement with the decision was by way of appeal.
A non-lawyer representing a friend in a landlord and tenant matter requested through the court clerk's office that the proceeding be bilingual, but when he appeared on the motion the judge did not speak French. The complainant alleged that the judge had pre-determined the case against him because he was a francophone and a member of a visible minority. The judge granted an adjournment on condition that the complainant's friend deposit rental arrear payments with the court on a monthly basis, a requirement, the complainant alleged, that was not imposed on others.
The judge explained that he had requested an interpreter once he found he could not communicate with the complainant and adjourned the matter to a special date because 11 witnesses would have to be called. The deposit was required, the judge said, in view of the nature of the proceedings. No evidence of judicial misconduct was found by the Vice-Chairman who considered the complaint. Court staff had erred in booking the complainant's motion before the judge, it was found, but this was not the judge's fault. The judge's imposition of terms, the Vice- Chairman of the Judicial Conduct Committee found, was within the judge's discretion and could only be varied by an appeal court, not the Council.
Another complainant, the accused in a criminal proceeding, alleged that the judge was a "racist" and had made up his mind before the trial began.
As the complainant provided no particulars, no action could be taken on his allegation of racism on the judge's part.
A complainant acting on behalf of a friend in an eviction proceeding objected to the judge referring to him as a "young student from Africa" in his reasons and said this and other comments in his reasons demonstrated the judge was racially biased against him.
Each of the instances cited by the complainant was reviewed; none was found to support the allegation of racism.
A complainant, acting on behalf of a party in a custody proceeding, alleged that a judge was biased against men and racially biased. He cited five grounds for the complaint -- including the judge's telling the man involved that he should get on with his life and ordering him to withdraw money from a guaranteed investment certificate and give it to his former wife, who was on welfare.
The charges were found to be unsubstantiated and the complaint to represent dissatisfaction with the judge's decision, a matter outside the Council's jurisdiction.
A complainant, a party in a contract dispute, alleged that a judge had made "racist and religious" slurs against him and his wife, that the judge had shouted at a witness, had ignored evidence, had treated the complainant's wife "as an ignorant and lifeless piece of furniture" and "had inside connections or arrangements" with the opposing party.
The judge said that on reviewing his reasons for judgment, he noted that he had referred to the complainant and his wife by an incorrect name and if, by doing so, he had inadvertently insulted them, their race or religion, he most sincerely apologized because he had no intention to do so. He noted that the complainant's wife had not been in court but had been capably represented by counsel. On reviewing the allegations and the judge's response, the complainant was advised that there was no basis for further action by the Council.
A complainant, representing himself in civil proceedings before the court, alleged that the judge who presided over a pre-trial conference coerced him into signing Minutes of Settlement favorable to the opposing party because the opposing party was a lawyer. The complainant also said that because the suit was brought by a "friend or officer of the court", a second judge who presided over a motion for an injunction made damaging comments about the complainant's wife.
The judge in the pre-trial conference cited a number of instances in the written record where she had told the complainant that any settlement had to be entirely voluntary. The second judge denied any special relationship between him and the lawyer and provided a transcript which he said demonstrated that he had given the complainant every opportunity to make his position clear to the court. On review of the complaint, the judges' letters and the transcripts of the proceedings, "absolutely no evidence of misconduct on the part of either judge" was found.
Complainants in an intellectual property case alleged that a judge, in adjourning a motion sine die and becoming involved in helping the parties reach a negotiated settlement, had created "an apprehension of bias" by combining the roles of mediator and judge. The judge said that he had encouraged the parties to negotiate a settlement to avoid lengthy delays which would be harmful to them in light of the nature of the intellectual property at issue, that he had later acted with the consent of both parties and had met with counsel for each side separately, that he had acted impartially throughout and that the parties had reached a voluntary settlement with the assistance of their counsel. Subsequently, counsel for the complainants advised the Council that, in his view, the judge should not have met separately with counsel in the absence of opposing counsel and said he saw a conflict in the judge switching roles as mediator and judge.
The complainants and their lawyer were advised that there was no evidence of misconduct on the part of the judge. But the letter also noted the substantial debate now underway about how such disputes should be managed and the evolving use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) to resolve disputes more efficiently and expeditiously. "The present view," the parties were advised, "is that a judge does not step over the line when she or he carries the matter to conclusion when parties have acknowledged that a settlement has been reached."
A complainant, a party in a custody case, alleged bias on the part of the judge because she had told him at a pre-trial conference that it was likely a trial judge would grant sole custody of the children to his ex-wife. He also objected to the number of pre-trial conferences the judge held and to the fact that the judge had held private sessions with his ex-wife and her counsel.
The judge, in responding to the complaint, said her position on the custody question was based on the recommendations of a psychological assessor who had been chosen by both parties. She confirmed that she had held seven pre-trial conferences because each time such a conference was called the parties asked for an adjournment, and confirmed that she had met jointly and privately with both parties and their counsel in accordance with her usual practice. In light of the complaint to the Council, the judge said no further purpose would be served by having them appear before her again prior to trial. As a result the matter had been set down for trial. The complainant was advised that, on review, no evidence of judicial misconduct was found. He was also advised that the judge could, at her discretion, make suggestions and interview parties jointly or separately as she thought best.
A complainant in a family court proceeding alleged that the opposing lawyer arranged to have the matter heard by the judge because the judge and the lawyer had a close personal relationship. He alleged that the lawyer and her husband socialized with the judge and his wife. He complained that a settlement favorable to his ex-wife was the result of this relationship.
The judge denied such a relationship and denied also that he and his wife socialized with the lawyer and her husband, saying that he knew her only as someone who had been active in the family law bar for many years. The complainant was advised that there was no evidence of misconduct, and that the Council had no jurisdiction to inquire into the actions of the lawyer. The complainant wrote again, expressing his extreme dissatisfaction with the Council's reply and repeating his allegations against the judge, adding as well that the judge's conduct "was both discriminatory (including racist remarks), biased and should be dealt with." He provided no evidence to support his allegation of racial prejudice. He was advised that it was regrettable that he was dissatisfied with the response to his complaint and that there was no basis for re-opening the file.
A complainant, representing himself, objected to a judge hearing a case, arguing that the judge was in a conflict because his daughter and son-in-law worked for the same law firm as opposing counsel and that a niece worked for the complainant's former law firm.
The judge, in his response to the complaint, said his daughter and son-in-law did indeed work for the law firm but they were unaware of the proceedings involving the complainant. Had they been involved in any matter that might come before the court, they would have advised the Court Registrar so that the judge would not preside. As well, he said the niece worked for the complainant's former law firm but he had no knowledge of her practice. In view of the complaint, he said he had advised the Registrar that he should not hear any future matter involving the complainant. The complainant was advised that "it would be considered inappropriate for a close relative" to appear before a judge, especially if it is a contested matter, but it is generally not considered inappropriate for a judge to hear a matter where relatives are not directly involved in the litigation. He was also advised there was no evidence of misconduct.
A number of complainants alleged that a judge was in a conflict because prior to his appointment to the bench he had acted on behalf of the ex-husband of one of those complaining and, as a result, the judge was biased against them.
As the female complainant was only involved peripherally in the case and only to the extent that her name appeared on one of the documents in evidence, they were advised that the allegation of conflict was a "feeble excuse" for attacking the integrity of the judge. They were advised there was no merit to their complaint, and that the judge's findings and conclusions appeared to be based on the evidence at the hearing and the application of the law.
A complainant, the friend of a plaintiff in civil proceedings for assault and wrongful dismissal, made various allegations against the judge and various lawyers who had acted for the plaintiff. She alleged that the judge was in conflict because she had taught the plaintiff, who was a solicitor, at law school, where she had been made party to confidential aspects of the plaintiff's life and, as a result of this previous contact, was biased against the plaintiff. As a result, the complainant alleged, the judge had approved the withdrawal of criminal charges against one of the defendants.
The judge denied any ill feelings against the plaintiff and, although having assisted her in law school with legal instruction, could not recollect any confidence the plaintiff might have shared with her. The complainant was advised that, on review of the complaint, the judge's response and the transcript of proceedings, there was no evidence of misconduct on the part of the judge. As well, the complainant was advised that, when criminal charges are withdrawn, it is done by the Crown and the decision is not reviewable by a judge.
A complainant alleged that a judge's son was a lawyer with a firm that acted for a bank that was the opposing party in a proceeding, that the judge was in conflict and should have advised her of this before hearing her case.
The judge confirmed that his son was with the firm but noted that the firm was not involved in any way with the case in which the complainant was involved, although the firm did act occasionally for the bank opposing her in the proceeding. The complainant was advised that the fact the judge's son's firm acted from time to time for the bank did not create a conflict of interest for the judge.
A complainant, a party in a family law proceeding, said that a number of lawyers had told him the judge favours the wife in divorce proceedings, and alleged that the judge hates "ethnic people" and that his ex-wife's attorney was "feeding a kickback to the judge."
The complainant was advised that these allegations were extremely serious but absolutely no evidence was provided to support them and hence there was no basis for any action by the Council.
A complainant, a party to a family law proceeding, lodged a formal complaint regarding the delay in receiving a decision from the judge. Earlier he had written to express concern at the delay, asking only that his concerns be transmitted to the judge, which was done through the judge's chief justice, and not be treated as a complaint by the Council. When he subsequently did complain about the delay, he also asked that the Council reimburse him for the "unnecessary" expense entailed in the judge's order that the parties submit written arguments to the court.
On review, the judge's order was found to be reasonable "in the circumstances" and the complainant was advised that the Council had no authority to reimburse him for the any costs.
A complainant made a number of allegations that a chief justice was "hostile, belligerent, deprecating, sarcastic and obstructive."
The complainant was asked to provide particulars and advised that the file would be held in abeyance pending his reply. The complainant did not provide any further material and the filed was closed as "discontinued".
A complainant serving four concurrent life sentences alleged that a chief justice had not acted expeditiously on a motion for habeas corpus .
Documentation provided by the judge showed the complainant was clearly instructed that the proceedings could only be entertained if they were properly filed in accordance with the Criminal Code and the Rules of Practice. The complainant's application did not conform to the requirements and, as the complainant had refused to be represented by counsel under the Legal Aid plan, his application had not been heard. Independent counsel agreed there was no basis for the allegation of misconduct. The complainant was advised of this.
A complainant alleged that a chief justice was in conflict during a case heard in 1985 because the chief justice was depicted in a photograph along with a city mayor who was the defendant in the case. He alleged the chief justice and the mayor were directors of the same organization at the same time, and, further, that the chief justice had assigned himself to hear the case in question.
The chief justice responded that the mayor had never been a member of the board of directors of the organization in question, nor had he attended any meetings while the chief justice was a member of the board, and he denied assigning the case to himself. The complainant was advised that his only recourse was by way of the Court of Appeal.
A complainant alleged that a chief justice had altered the transcript of the complainant's son's criminal trial "to such an extent that he cannot have a fair and impartial appeal."
The complainant was asked to provide particulars to support his allegations. The file was kept open pending receipt of further information. When the complainant failed to respond to the request for supporting information the file was closed as "discontinued".
A complainant, who, like his ex-wife, the other party, represented himself in family law proceedings extending over a number of years, alleged that a chief justice abused his authority by referring the case to a Master. The complainant said the chief justice had no authority to vary an outstanding order regarding custody of the complainant's children. He also took issue with the case having been transferred, without hearing, to another centre in the province.
The chief justice said he had made an administrative decision to refer the case to a Master because the proceedings were long and complex and he wanted the Master to clarify the issues and make a recommendation on how to resolve them. The complainant was advised that there was no basis whatsoever for a finding of improper conduct by the chief justice, and that the Council has no authority to review the administrative action he might take to case-manage a file.
A complainant, who represented himself in complex business litigation, disagreed with a number of decisions rendered over a period of time by nine different judges, arguing that some of the decisions were improper and prejudicial while others were discriminatory and biased. He complained that the actions of the judges "amounted to or verge on judicial corruption." He provided no evidence of misconduct to support his claim.
The complainant was advised that, on review, his complaint provided no grounds for his allegation of misconduct. In response, the complainant made allegations against two members of the Council for not adhering to the Council's mandate under the Judges Act "by suborning obstructive conduct and coddling jurists." This new allegation was also found to be without basis. Independent counsel concurred.
A complainant, the defendant along with her mother in a property dispute commenced by the complainant's sister, alleged that the judge, without hearing evidence from her, found she had been abusing her mother. She provided letters from her mother's physician and neighbours to the effect that there was no abuse by the complainant, and she requested an apology from the judge.
The judge said he continued to feel concern for the welfare of the complainant's mother and that he had told the parties he was satisfied she had been abused, but he acknowledged he should not have done so without hearing the testimony of the complainant. He asked that his apologies be conveyed to the complainant. The complainant was advised that her request for an apology was reasonable and, as the judge had apologized, the file was closed.
The complainant, a party in a matrimonial dispute, alleged that the judge shouted at him, was rude and sarcastic and improperly accused him of lying. He said that the judge was biased against him and when his lawyer tried to say something the judge "shouted him down, too."
The judge said that the complainant had failed to comply with a number of court orders he and other judges had issued and wanted to know why the complainant had not filed a financial statement when he had been ordered to do so on at least two previous occasions. The judge acknowledged that he had slammed his hand on the table and had told the complainant "in a very loud voice that he must comply with orders of the courts and that if did not do so he could be sent to jail for contempt." He apologized for slamming his hand on the table and for speaking in a loud voice. But he denied saying that "I would look for something to send him in jail for" and he denied the other allegations of misconduct on the complainant's part. The complainant was advised of the judge's apology and of his denial of other allegations of misconduct. "While it is regrettable when a judge exhibits any lack of judicial calmness," the letter to the complainant said, "an isolated act of impatience would be hardly sufficient to justify a recommendation for removal, especially when a person is in breach of court orders, and the judge is a person of good judicial repute."
A complainant who was an employee in a courthouse complained of harassment in the workplace through "abuse of authority". She said a judge, acting as in an administrative capacity, had no control of his temper and engaged in personal vendettas against people who crossed him.
The complainant was advised that workplace harassment did not fall within the Council's jurisdiction in that supervision of court staff is a provincial responsibility. As well, she was advised that her complaint did not indicate any abuse of judicial authority for personal advantage, nor any conduct that could possibly lead to a recommendation that the judge be removed from office. She was advised that her administrative difficulties would have to be resolved through the usual channels in her workplace.
Two complaints were received regarding a judge's comments about the federal government's proposed gun control legislation. The complaints alleged that the judge had written an open letter to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice, then made copies available to the media. The judge also gave interviews to Radio Canada in which he spoke against the proposed legislation. The complainants said it was improper for a member of the judiciary to make comments about prospective legislation, as it undermined his ability to function in an impartial and independent manner.
The judge defended his actions, stating that in the absence of a clear prohibition on judges' freedom of expression, his actions were "restrained and within the guidelines of the Council." The complaint file was referred to a five-member Panel of the Committee. The Panel said in its letter to the judge that his comments were a "highly partisan attack upon a proposal which, if carried forward into legislation, could well come before you for interpretation and enforcement." Proper judicial conduct, the Panel said, could not be measured only in terms of strict, individual legal rights. The Panel expressed strong disapproval of the judge's conduct because it compromised the judge's impartiality. However, the Panel concluded that, while regrettable, the conduct could not properly lead to a recommendation for his removal from office.
A complainant, the head of a union, alleged that a judge had not rendered his decision in a case heard on an "emergency" basis seven and a half months before.
The comments of the judge were sought and he provided the reasons for the delay, noting that he had delivered his reasons for judgment just prior to receiving the Council's letter concerning the delay. A three-member Panel considered the file, and, while concluding that no further action was warranted, noted that in another case involving delay in rendering judgment on the part of another judge, a Panel had concluded "that a formal investigation should be initiated against a judge who had several judgments outstanding over a long period of time." The Panel advised the judge that "we are anxious that such a situation not develop in your case." It urged the judge to institute a system, in conjunction with his chief justice, that would allow him to keep as up to date as possible. The complainant was informed of a Council resolution approved in 1985, declaring that "it is the view of the Council that judgments should be rendered within six months after hearing, except in special circumstances.. . .It is always regrettable when an urgently required decision is delayed unduly," the complainant was advised.
A complainant, an employee in a court clerk's office, alleged that she terminated her employment because "I could no longer accept the verbal and mental abuse that I had been subjected to for the past three years" at the hands of one of the judges on that court. She included with her complaint 40 pages of her "personal journal" and memoranda in which she described numerous contacts with the judge which she characterized as rude and unfair.
The judge, in his response, said that there had been a deterioration in the employee's behaviour over several years and "in the end, her behaviour towards the public and to other court personnel became unacceptable and unprofessional." He admitted he had sworn at her on one occasion. A fact-finding was undertaken by independent counsel, and a three-member Panel was established. The Panel concluded that the conduct complained of, which it said "seems to have been highly unusual", did not arise from the judge's misuse of judicial office or misuse of judicial power or authority for personal reasons. The Panel said, as well, that "the responsibility for the kinds of misconduct described .. (if such it was) rests more with the Chief Justice of the Court than with the Council." The complainant was advised that complaints such as hers should be directed to her supervisor or to the judge, regional senior justice or chief justice.
Two complaints alleged that a judge had demonstrated racial bias in a criminal trial of a police officer charged with manslaughter in the death of a black man. The first alleged that the judge refused to listen to the Crown's arguments and continually discredited any black witnesses. "The manner in which he addressed a group of black men who were waiting to be Crown witnesses was hostile and despicable." The second complaint, from the mother of the dead man, alleged that the judge "continuously shouted at the prosecution ... while remaining in a calm and orderly fashion in his dealing (with defence counsel)."
The judge denied addressing any offensive remarks to any blacks during the trial, or behaving toward any witnesses in an offensive manner. A three-member Panel struck to consider the complaints concluded, on the basis of inquiries and a review of the transcripts of the closing remarks by defence counsel, the judge's charge to the jury and sections where the judge dealt with Crown witnesses, that there was no evidence of judicial misconduct. Detailed letters were sent to each complainant dealing with each of their allegations in turn.