Ontario judge presided over Toronto-area Caribbean court cases

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A sculpture of jurors sits outside the Ontario Superior Court of Justice courthouse in downtown Toronto on February 12. Until recently, a judge who works in several courthouses in the west of the city presided over cases remotely while staying at a complex in the Turks and Caicos.

(Evan Mitsui / CBC – image credit)

As Canadians were urged to stay at home during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, an Ontario Superior Court of Justice judge was allowed to travel to the Caribbean and remotely preside over his court cases in Toronto area, CBC News learned.

The judge is responsible for holding civil and criminal hearings in several courthouses in the Central West region, west of Toronto.

But until recently, the judge – who left Canada for the Turks and Caicos Islands on Jan.9 and remains there – was conducting court cases while staying at a beach resort.

CBC News contacted the judge and she sent a request for comment to Superior Court Chief Justice Geoffrey B. Morawetz.

His office said the judge briefed Judge Leonard Ricchetti, a regional senior judge for the Central West region, of his plans before he left.

Amanda Jerome / The Lawyer's Daily

Amanda Jerome / The Daily Lawyer

“The situation which led to the trip involves very specific personal and confidential circumstances and on the basis of these was not considered inappropriate,” Morawetz’s office said in a statement.

Because the nature of these personal reasons is unknown, CBC News does not identify the judge.

The judge continued to preside over court cases for weeks after arriving in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

On February 8, shortly after CBC News asked Morawetz’s office if she worked in the Caribbean, the judge was advised to stop doing so.

“She had heard some cases following an oversight. She will not be scheduled to hear other cases outside the country,” the chief justice’s office said.

The judge is expected to stay in the Caribbean until the end of the month, his office said.

The judge left a few days after justice asked not to travel

The judge left Canada three days after Morawetz issued travel and work directives to all judges of the Ontario Superior Court.

“In light of the ongoing public health crisis, on January 6, 2021 Chief Justice Morawetz called on members of the SCJ judiciary to act in accordance with government public health advice to avoid non-essential travel,” he said. declared his office.

“He also acknowledged that there may be unique circumstances which require a member of the judiciary to travel, but, in general, he indicated that travel should be avoided and judges were advised to avoid sitting on the bench. procedure when they are outside the country. “

It is not clear whether other judges have traveled and held hearings from overseas, as officials have said they do not count.

“Judges are ultimately responsible for their own conduct. Some, but not all, will have discussed or sought advice or direction from their regional senior judge regarding travel,” according to the Morawetz office.

“As a result, regional senior judges will know if some judges are outside the province or the country, but they may not have information on all the judges or, in a given case, all the details.”

Public officials who traveled paid a heavy price

Some public figures who traveled during the closures imposed by the province have paid a heavy price in part because of public outrage.

In December, Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips resigned after learning he had visited St. Barts during the Christmas break.

Prime Minister Doug Ford said he was unaware Phillips had left the country until the minister had already arrived on the Caribbean island.

Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press

Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press

Ford himself has been ridiculed by some for taking a day trip to his Muskoka cabin last spring to check on construction work on the property after urging Ontarians to stay home.

Dr Tom Stewart, who was CEO of two Ontario hospital networks in the Hamilton and Niagara region and a member of several health advisory roles – including a provincial advisor on COVID-19 – visited in the Dominican Republic during the holidays. He was removed from his two CEO positions and resigned as provincial councilor in January.

Also last month, Hamilton area MP David Sweet resigned as chair of the House of Commons Ethics Committee after visiting the United States in December.

Many other public officials have also been publicly criticized for leaving the country to visit families, including sick relatives, or to check properties.

Returning Canadians Face Growing Barriers

While there is nothing illegal about traveling abroad during the pandemic, the federal government is imposing additional health and safety measures on returning Canadians to discourage travel.

From February 22, international travelers will be forced to quarantine themselves for up to three days in specific hotels at their own expense pending the results of a COVID-19 test.

WATCH | Hotel quarantines for air travelers go into effect on February 22:

If the test is negative, they will be allowed to self-isolate at home for the remaining 14 days of the quarantine period.

Canadian airlines have suspended travel to Mexico and the Caribbean, including the Turks and Caicos Islands, until the end of April in an effort to help contain the spread of the new coronavirus and its variants that are believed to be more transmissible .

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