Sample of complaints received during 1996-1997
A complainant alleged that during a family law proceeding the judge laughed at him, refused to grant an adjournment, took sides with the other parties and had decided the case before he was able to present his arguments.
The judge, asked for his comments, said the trial had been adjourned a number of times to allow the complainant to retain counsel and that a further adjournment would have been unacceptable. The judge said that laughing at the complainant would have been unacceptable and he had not done so. He noted as well that he had listened to the complainant's arguments but had called him to order when they became repetitive.
The president of an association that helps people to represent themselves complained that a judge had treated him like a "charlatan" during a hearing of a client of the association.
The judge was asked for comments, and said that certain of the procedures used by the association were frivolous and abusive and there had been several proceedings for illegally practicing law. The complaint was found to be without merit and the complainant was advised that there was no basis for action under with the Judges Act.
A complainant alleged that a judge was guilty of misconduct for suggesting that he should retain counsel in his tort action against the Crown. He also made a number of allegations regarding several lawyers who he had retained or acted against.
The complainant was told that the judge acted within his jurisdiction in suggesting that he should retain counsel. There was no evidence of any misconduct.
A complainant in a stalking case wrote that she found it "highly inappropriate and scandalous" that, in acquitting the accused, the judge had expressed the view that the complainant was "over-reacting", and that she felt "further victimized, minimized and invalidated by this insensitive comment."
The complainant was advised that it would be for an appeal court to judge whether the inference of "over-reacting" that the judge drew from the evidence was justified, but the Council did not have jurisdiction to retry the case.
The complainant, a party to family law proceedings, requested a judicial review of a judge's decision on a motion for interim support on the basis that "men do not receive fair treatment in Family Law."
The complainant was advised that there was no evidence of judicial misconduct.
A complainant alleged that a judge was biased against men and that "she often argued in favor of the women's positions, acting as prosecutor", that she had refused to hear his side of the case and those of several applicants ahead of him, and that "she had habitually ignored pleas from the advocates of all the fathers."
The judge noted that the complainant had earlier been granted access but there was a restraining order in place at the time of the hearing, that there was an outstanding order requiring a psychological assessment which had not been completed, and in view of affidavits on file with the court, the uncompleted assessment and allegations of sexual abuse, she thought it prudent to receive the assessment before access was granted. The complainant was advised there was no evidence of judicial misconduct or that the judge "in any way exhibited bias against men."
A woman seeking to deny her ex-spouse access to their daughter complained that, at a case conference prior to trial, a judge was biased against her and made demeaning comments in the presence of her ex-spouse and counsel. Among the comments complained of was an allegation that the judge said that "all children that are in a situation where the family has been denied access end up on the streets".
The judge denied saying this and noted cases where denying access to one party or the other was in the best interest of the child. The judge said there was never any intention of making damaging and deliberately hurtful comments and she regretted that the complainant had misinterpreted her remarks. The complainant was advised that, while the Council regretted the complainant's dissatisfaction, judges during case conferences are expected to step out of their traditional roles and act in a less formal and more conversational way.
A complainant alleged that the judge was biased against her because she was a woman, that he had prejudged her case and could not be impartial.
No evidence was found to support her allegations or that interruptions of counsel by the judge represented anything more than a trial judge performing his judicial function.
A complainant alleged that the Court "helps perpetuate a vicious circle leading non-custodial parents to poverty" and questioned whether a judge endorsed "some hidden agenda approved by some gender-related movement geared toward enriching the habitual custody recipients." He said the judge was the "author" of a minimum child support payment of $400 -- which the Council was advised was a reference to a figure set in another judgment by the judge -- and asked for an investigation of the judge's cases, as well as "draconian" enforcement procedures and the whole family law system.
The complainant was advised that his letter provided no basis for an investigation of the judge, that child support was a major issue for governments, including the provinces who were responsible for the maintenance enforcement programs in each province.
The complainant was the respondent in a motion by the father of their child for a change in interim custody. The father brought the motion because the complainant had unilaterally removed their son from a Jewish school and enrolled him in a Christian school. The woman alleged the judge demonstrated bias against her because he was Jewish and refused to disqualify himself on the basis of bias.
The judge, asked for his comments, said that in the best interest of the child he felt the status quo should be maintained until the matter came to trial. He gave the complainant the choice of maintaining custody of the child and keeping her son in the Jewish school, or giving interim custody to the father. The complainant agreed she should have custody and to keep him enrolled in a Jewish school. Subsequently, however, the judge received a letter from the school saying it could not accept the child because the mother had insisted on having the child repeat that he hated the school and loves Jesus. The letter formed the basis of a motion to find the complainant in contempt. The Council informed the complainant that there was no evidence of judicial misconduct.
A complainant appealed a decision from a small claims adjudicator ordering payment to the respondent, saying the judge had told him loudly to "shut your mouth" and he believed he was treated in a different way because "I am East Indian ..." The judge provided a transcript in which the complainant said he would make sure that "Mr. (X) won't get a penny from me." At that point, the judge said, "Sir, you better just keep your mouth shut and I mean that, you keep your mouth shut."
The judge said his choice of words was inappropriate but the complainant had either crossed the line of committing contempt of court or was approaching it in saying that notwithstanding the decision of the court or the earlier decision of the adjudicator the respondent would not see a penny from him. The judge said he could not recall an occasion when there had been such an open challenge to a decision. The judge said he was upset the complainant would not believe his comments were unrelated in any way to his being East Indian. The judge agreed that his letter should be provided to the complainant. The file was closed because there was no basis for action by the Council;
A complainant, a citizen of both Jamaica and Canada, represented himself in proceedings concerning access to his children. He sought an order allowing him to take the children to Jamaica for a summer vacation, a motion opposed by his former wife who stated in her affidavit that he would not return to Canada with the children, that Jamaica was a violent country and that the children's safety would be endangered in such a visit. The complainant alleged that the judge dismissed the motion because friends had told him Jamaica was unstable and violent and that the judge had "a very prejudiced view of what men's relationships with their children are like or ought to be."
The judge confirmed that the complainant's wife had made submissions regarding the safety of the children and he had based his decision on the arguments from both sides. He denied that his comments reflected prejudice in any way for or against generous access for fathers. He apologized for any offence he might have inadvertently given. The complainant was provided with a copy of the judge's letter and was informed that the Council had no basis for concluding that the judge's alleged comments had constituted the basis for his decision.
A party to a custody trial and his girlfriend alleged that a judge in his decision had stereotyped racial views and had portrayed the complainant as an aboriginal who is a binge drinker and is irresponsible. They were offended that the judge had required the complainant to drive a long distance to pick up his children on the basis that men are able to drive longer distances than women.
Following a review of the transcript, the complainants were informed that there was no basis alleging the judgment was biased or discriminatory, although the judge had found the father's past behaviour of concern. The judge, the complainant was advised, took into account in determining the arrangements for the complainants picking up the children that his former partner did not have a car. They were also informed that, if they did not wish to accept the decision, the appropriate recourse was through appeal but that, in discussing possible alternatives with legal counsel, they might also consider using family counselors to find ways to help the children have healthy relationships with all concerned.
A complainant, party to a judicial review of a decision to expel him from a university, alleged that the judge had a conflict of interest because he had been a member of a law firm representing the university and had acted on behalf of the university while a partner of the firm.
The judge, asked for his comments, said he had indeed acted for the university before he was appointed to the bench but that, after 15 years as a judge, he did not believe it necessary to recuse himself in matters involving either his old law firm or the university. The complainant was advised that the judge had acted appropriately and this was not a case where he should have disqualified himself from hearing the matter, given that he had no involvement with the university and the amount of time that had elapsed since becoming a judge.
A complainant, the mother of two alleged victims in a sexual assault case, alleged that the judge had acquitted the accused because he knew the accused through past association with a political party.
The judge categorically denied any prior knowledge or association with the accused. He said he was aware of the presence of two persons with past political connections at the trial but the courts are open to the public and their presence did not affect his decision in any way. The complaint was found to be without basis in that there was no evidence of any past knowledge or past association with the accused on the judge's part.
The complainant, the subject of disciplinary proceedings before the College of Physicians and Surgeons for which he was seeking judicial review, alleged that three judges had a conflict of interest. He alleged that one judge had sat some years earlier on a previous matter where he was a party and might be related to opposing counsel in that they had the same name, that a second judge was formerly in the same law firm as his lawyer, and that a third judge had prior knowledge of the complainant and the history of his proceedings before the court.
The judges' comments were sought. The first judge said he had sat on an unrelated matter involving the complainant but that the complainant's counsel did not object, and that he was not related to the opposing counsel. The second judge had practised in the same law firm as the complainant's lawyer but that was before the judge was named to the bench 15 years previously. And the third judge said he had no prior knowledge of either the complainant or his past proceedings in the courts. The complaint was found to be without basis and no evidence of misconduct or impropriety.
The complainant alleged that a judge, who sat on the appeal panel which set aside her son's conviction for murder and ordered a new trial, also sat on an appeal panel 10 years later that dealt with a collateral matter. She alleged that sitting on the second panel was a conflict of interest.
After review of her complaint, she was advised that there was absolutely no reason why the judge would decline to sit on an application that was made nearly 10 years later on a matter involving the same case. There was no suggestion of a personal interest by the judge.
A complainant who had been awarded costs by one judge in a motion in his divorce proceedings brought a motion before another judge against his ex-spouse's lawyer personally for non-payment and added the lawyer's name to the style of cause in the divorce proceedings. The second judge dismissed the motion and ordered the complainant to pay costs. The complainant alleged that the judge had said the first judge "should go to dumb judge's school" for having awarded costs against the solicitor, since the complainant had represented himself.
The judge, asked to comment, said he was wrong to criticize the first judge, that he had apologized and the apology had been "graciously accepted." The complainant was advised that the awarding of costs is a matter for a judge's discretion and cannot be reviewed by the Council. He was also advised that as the judge had recognized the impropriety of his comments regarding the other judge's order, there was no basis for further action by the Council.
The complainant, the chair of a volunteer organization that administers a minor hockey program, alleged that a newly appointed judge sought to use his judicial position to achieve personal objectives by using his judicial letterhead to complain about the geographical boundaries of the league and declare that "I will not tolerate this situation" next year.
The judge advised the Council that he had discussed the matter with senior justices who advised him he should not have used his official letterhead when writing personal correspondence. He apologized, saying he had not used the official stationery with a view to gaining personal advantage. The complainant was advised that "it was most regrettable that this incident arose" but, in that the judge had apologized for failing to consider the implications of using official letterhead for private correspondence, there was no basis for further action by the Council.
A similar complaint involved the neighbor of a judge who objected to the judge's using court stationery to raise personal objections about the complainant parking his drywall truck in the neighborhood. He felt the use of the letterhead was a "indicative of his intent to intimidate" and was a misuse of his judicial position.
The judge apologized for using the stationery saying he had not intended it to intimidate the complainant and, in fact, the possibility had not crossed his mind. The reason for using it, he said, was that it was the only notepaper immediately available when he wrote the note. The complainant was advised that it was preferable that judges not use official stationery for private purposes but the incident was not sufficiently serious to deserve further action on the part of the Council.
A complainant, an expert witness at a trial, said that he has a very low and soft voice. A judge, he alleged, appeared to be angry when he could not hear what was said and spoke rudely to him in asking him to speak up. He said he was shocked at the judge's manner. The judge explained that the Crown's first witness was a 12-year-old who had spoken in a very low voice. The second witness was also hard to hear. A transcript of the proceedings recorded the ensuing exchange with the complainant. In the exchange, the judge told the Crown: "I'm afraid you don't seem to be having very good fortune with your witnesses. I expect that this witness would have the wit to speak up. What did he just say?" The judge then told the complainant to "speak into the microphone and you're to speak loudly and clearly: Do you understand what I've told you?"
The judge unreservedly apologized to the complainant and said he wanted to "assure him that my only intent was to have him speak up." The complainant was provided with a copy of the judge's letter and advised that the Council regretted the judge's lack of courtesy and welcomed his unreserved apology.
A complainant took issue with a judge's comments as reported in a newspaper. The judge was reported as abruptly ending a hearing before closing arguments were completed and telling the counsel for one of the parties as she began her closing arguments that "you've got six minutes to sing." He also said he was a "one-day judge" and said nothing in the law required him to deliver a decision within a set period. The complainant objected to the judge's arrogance and asked that the judge be removed from the bench.
The judge, asked to respond, apologized for his conduct, acknowledging that he had "reacted in an intemperate and inappropriate manner." He said that, following the hearing in question, he had arranged to complete the hearing the following week although he was not scheduled to sit, and had apologized to counsel and his colleagues at the start of that hearing. Counsel for all parties indicated that they were content to have the judge continue on the case. A letter to the complainant noted both the judge's regrettable lack of courtesy and his unqualified apology. There was no basis for further action by the Council.
The complainant, the mother of a young female victim in an alleged sexual assault, sexual exploitation and incest case where the judge found the accused not guilty, alleged that the judge was wrong to come to the conclusions that he did. She believed there had been a miscarriage of justice and asked the Council to investigate the reasons the judge gave for his verdict and his ability to preside over other sexual assault cases.
The complainant was advised that her letter paralleled what a Crown counsel might outline in the case of an appeal but the Council had no basis for further action in that "an unpopular decision does not amount to judicial misconduct that would engage the jurisdiction of this Council."
The complainant alleged that an Associate Chief Justice had exhibited bias and a lack of impartiality in administration of the case management process in rendering a decision that a corporation in a bankruptcy matter had to be represented by counsel. He complained that following a meeting with his Chief Justice, the Associate Chief Justice had taken certain actions and had continued to sit as a judge in the bankruptcy proceedings although he had been served with a notice of appeal as the respondent.
The complainant was advised the Council has no authority to direct a judge in the exercise of his or her judicial functions. The fact that the complainant was fundamentally in disagreement with certain decisions and that they had a major impact on his rights and those of the creditor he was representing do not amount to bias and partiality. The Associate Chief Justice denied the implication that he had acted as a result of influence from his Chief Justice. The complainant was also advised that judges are not required to recuse themselves because appeals are taken.
The complainant, a party in a landlord-tenant dispute, alleged that a judge who presided at trial was "either incompetent or had an undisclosed interest" but provided no particulars regarding the allegation of conflict. The complainant had written to the Chief and Associate Chief Justices of the court complaining about the judge and, when he received no response, complained to the Council about all three judges. In his material, he alleged the Chief Justice was a close friend of the landlord and had presided at a mini-trial.
The judge, responding to queries, said that the complainant had been the defendant in the landlord-tenant matter and had lost. His counterclaim against the landlord was dismissed with costs against him. He appealed and lost on appeal. The judge noted that the Chief Justice had not presided at the mini-trial as alleged. The complaint was found to be without merit.
A complainant wrote 10 letters alleging conflict of interest against a number of judges. One judge was alleged to be in conflict because, when she was president of a provincial law society, she declined to meet the complainant regarding his allegations about a lawyer.
The letters provided no information in support of his allegations against various other judges. A number of the complaints appeared, however, to relate to the disposition of previous complaints. The complaints were found to be without merit.
A complainant, dissatisfied about the decisions of three judges related to his claims against the Ministry of Social Services in his province, had sent an application directly to the Chief Justice of the province and complained that the Chief Justice did not respond directly to him. The Chief Justice, asked for comment, said that the complainant had a history of multiple claims against the ministry and was under an order requiring leave before commencing further proceedings to preclude frivolous and vexatious proceedings. The complainant, the Chief Justice said, had ignored proper procedure in sending the application directly to him and he had assigned the matter to another judge, against whom a complaint was also made. The complaint was found to be without merit.
Two complaint files, opened as a result of media coverage and questions in the House of Commons concerning the implications of contacts between a senior member of the Department of Justice and Chief Justice Isaac of the Federal Court of Canada, were assigned to the same Panel by the Chair of the Judicial Conduct Committee. The complaints were unique in that they were initiated in letters from the Chair of the Council's Judicial Conduct Committee. In the first file about Chief Justice Isaac a complaint was subsequently received from an individual having an interest in the litigation of concern. The complaint of the Committee Chair was that allegations had been made in court proceedings that Chief Justice Isaac had "entertained representations on behalf of one party in such proceedings" and that such representations had led "directly or indirectly" to Associate Chief Justice Jerome recusing himself as presiding judge. In the second file the Committee Chair requested that the Associate Chief Justice comment on allegations that he had "seriously delayed the conduct of the proceedings".
After responses were received, the files were referred to a three-member Panel which asked that an independent fact-finding be conducted with regard to both complaint files. On the basis of this fact-finding, the Panel concluded that an expression of disapproval was warranted in each case. Because of the public interest in the matter, press releases were issued when the files were closed.
A woman seeking interim joint custody and/or access to a child adopted by another woman complained that a judge admitted to being prejudiced in such cases, did not take her case seriously and a motion to dismiss her application was granted within five minutes of the start of the hearing.
The judgment was reversed on appeal and returned to the trial court. Subsequently, the judge wrote an open letter to a newspaper as there had been considerable media coverage about the case. The one-member Panel concluded that a formal investigation was not justified but that an expression of disapproval was warranted. There was no evidence that the judge was prejudiced in the sense understood by the complainant, the Panel found, but the complainant had grounds for believing her application was not taken seriously by the court.
A complainant in a civil action complained that a judge had delivered her judgment only in English when all parties to the proceeding were French-speaking and the trial had been conducted in French.
The judge's understanding of court policy, based on the recognized jurisprudence, was that the judge could write a judgment in the language of choice and, in this case, the choice was English because the judgment was long, it was preferable to render judgment quickly and the judge could prepare the judgment more quickly in the language in which she was most at ease. The two-member Panel concluded that there was no evidence of misconduct and no reason for an expression of disapproval. The Panel noted, however, that it was preferable that a judgment be pronounced or written in French if that were the language used in a hearing or, alternatively, written in English and translated into French prior to its being rendered. The complainant was also informed of provincial government directives providing that, on request, judgments rendered in English may be translated without cost to litigants into French. The Panel also said that it would also have been preferable for the judge to inform the parties when, as in this case, the language of the trial would not be used in the judgment so that the parties could engage the services of an interpreter for simultaneous translation if they wished to do so.
A complainant, a member of an association that advises persons unrepresented by legal counsel, alleged that a judge had not allowed him to say anything about a motion for corollary relief, had become angry and had ordered him to get legal counsel. The complainant indicated that his pleadings had been prepared by a member of the association who was not a member of the bar. The association was also named as an intervenor in the proceeding.
The judge was asked for comment. The judge said that in referring to the preparation of the pleadings if the complainant needed legal assistance he must retain the services of licensed legal counsel and the complainant, who had no legal training, might have found it difficult to understand that his motion had been dismissed because it was not in accordance with the law. A one-member Panel found that the complainant's lack of experience with the courts may have led to difficulty in indicating that he wanted to argue a point of law relating to his motion, or that he wanted to request a postponement to prepare himself accordingly. It was unfortunate, the Panel found, that the complainant had interpreted the judge's intervention as being unfair or critical but it was not within the jurisdiction of the Council to reverse the court's decision. The complainant had subsequently exercised his right to appeal the matter to a higher court. The Panel concluded that no action was warranted under the Judges Act.