Powassan Mayor Peter McIsaac wants to know why his municipality is getting an invoice from the City of North Bay for court-related costs during a period when COVID-19 has disrupted court proceedings. The $4,366.27 invoice was sent to the municipality by Peter Leckie, the City of North Bay's solicitor. Under the Provincial Offences Act, all municipalities in Nipissing District in addition to the Nipissing First Nation have an Intermunicipal Service Agreement with North Bay to share court services. The service agreement also includes three municipalities in Parry Sound District - Powassan, Nipissing Township and Callander. In addition, three municipalities in the Sudbury District share North Bay court services - French River, Markstay-Warren and St. Charles. McIsaac told his council colleagues he doesn't know why Powassan is getting a bill since there has been no court activity since March 2020 when the pandemic triggered numerous lockdowns and closures. Powassan normally receives about $20,000 annually as its share under the service agreement as a result of fines levied against individuals when court is in session. “I'd like to know, before we pay this, what exactly did they do to mitigate costs to the municipalities that pay into this?” McIsaac asked. “There was no court, so why are we paying $4,000? I don't mind paying the bill as long as they can justify the details.” McIsaac said the invoice was not a lot of money but said several times he wanted a breakdown of how these costs were incurred. “If they can say we had this many staff who still worked during this time, here are our costs, that's fine, but don't send me a one-liner,” McIsaac said. McIsaac also pointed out that every municipality that is part of the Provincial Offences Act Intermunicipal Service Agreement with North Bay is getting a similar invoice. McIsaac also expressed a fear that many of the court cases that have not been able to take place because of COVID will get dropped because of time limits. Councillors agreed the municipality needs answers before paying the invoice. Coun, Dave Britton said the invoice represented a cost to the municipality and asked “if they're not operating or are operating virtually, then why have there not been more cases closed under the virtual court system?” In his letter to the municipality, Leckie says COVID-19 “has resulted in tremendous disruptions to the normal operations of the Provincial Offences Act court services, including the adjournment and rescheduling of matters and the suspension and extension of timelines established by any statute, regulation, rule or by-law”. Leckie says the pandemic created a deficit of $191,587 for the Intermunicipal Service Agreement during 2020 and a further $60,507 deficit by the end of July this year. Additionally, as of July 31 of this year, 543 trials were still waiting to be booked. That does not include new cases since the end of July. Leckie says except for appearing in court, the work of the prosecutor has continued unchanged. He says this includes screening files, identifying evidentiary issues and problems, taking positions on resolutions and ensuring the file is ready for court. Court may not be in session, but Leckie says the prosecutor continues to respond to agents or defendants who want to talk about resolutions and also “continues to resolve matters that are resolvable. “In short, the ongoing work of the prosecutor and her staff continues behind the scenes.” While debating the invoice at its regular Tuesday meeting this week, Powassan council had a further question for North Bay. Coun. Dave Britton noted the invoice was drawn up some time ago. The invoice has a date of June 2, with a due date for payment by July 2. However, Leckie's letter to the member municipalities of the court service agreement is dated Sept. 1 and Maureen Lang, Powassan's Chief Administration Officer, says the municipality did not receive Leckie's letter and the invoice until Sept. 7.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget