Ontario justice mistakenly assigned cases while abroad for personal reasons

·2 min read

TORONTO — A judge was inadvertently assigned cases to hear while on a trip outside the province that was approved despite COVID-19 guidance on travel, Ontario's Superior Court said on Wednesday.

In a statement from the office of the chief justice, the court said the judge involved was expected to return home before the end of the month and wouldn't be handed more cases until then.

"The situation that led to the travel involved very specific personal and confidential circumstances," the court said. "Based upon these, (it) was deemed not inappropriate."

The statement did not identify the judge or confirm a CBC News report that the female justice had presided over cases from the Turks and Caicos.

Several politicians and health-care officials have become high profile flashpoints of public anger in recent months for leaving the country despite public health advice to the contrary.

Among them, the former CEO of the London Health Sciences Centre is now embroiled in litigation after his travel to the U.S. prompted the hospital to terminate his contract.

Rod Phillips, Ontario's former finance minister, resigned from his post in late December after taking a personal trip to St. Barts.

"At a time when the people of Ontario have sacrificed so much, today’s resignation is a demonstration that our government takes seriously our obligation to hold ourselves to a higher standard," Premier Doug Ford said at the time.

Early last month as the province headed back into lockdown, Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz asked members of the judiciary to heed the strong advice from the federal government and public health authorities against unnecessary travel in light of the COVID-19 crisis.

At the same time, his office said Morawetz recognized some judges with limited duties might already have been out of the province or country, while others might find themselves in a situation where travel was essential.

"There may be unique circumstances that require a member of the judiciary to travel," the court said. "In general, he indicated that travel should be avoided and judges were asked to avoid sitting on proceedings while out of the country."

How many judges might be abroad and hearing cases is not known. The statement noted judges are responsible for their own conduct and do not have to discuss with, or seek guidance from, superiors regarding travel, so some might not have done so.

In this case, however, the justice did consult the regional senior judge for the Central West Region, Leonard Ricchetti, who found no reason to disapprove, the court said. However, no cases should have been given to the justice to hear while away.

"The judge was scheduled and heard some matters as a result of an oversight," the court said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 17, 2021.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press