New judge to preside here

Justice Alan Thomas McKay became the first resident judge to preside in Fort Frances since 1991 after his swearing-in ceremony here last Wednesday afternoon.
“I feel both excited and privileged,” Justice McKay said after taking his oaths and donning his new robes. “I’m grateful to have the opportunity to serve the people of Ontario, and especially the people of the Rainy River District.”
A number of dignitaries attended the event, including Brian Lennox, Chief Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice, who once presided in Fort Frances.
Also on hand were representatives of the local and provincial legal community, Justice McKay’s family and friends, and Donald Fraser, regional senior justice for the Northwest Region, Ontario Court of Justice.
“It has been too long that Fort Frances has been without a resident judge,” Justice Fraser remarked.
The last resident judge to preside here was Justice Terrence Platana in 1991. He also attended Wednesday’s ceremony.
“I cannot tell you how pleased we are with this new appointment,” local lawyer Lawrence Phillips said on behalf of the District of Rainy River Law Association.
“I would like to thank all the people who have lobbied to bring this appointment back to our district,” he noted, including local Crown attorney Robert “Buster” Young and Justice Peter Bishop.
The Ontario Court of Justice here has faced many difficulties in recent years, Phillips added. There currently are only two lawyers acting as duty counsel, one children’s lawyer, and few lawyers accepting legal aid certificates.
This new appointment may help remedy the situation, he said.
“We hope to bring back lawyers who have abandoned the Ontario Court of Justice,” he said. “We look forward to ending so many of the problems we’ve faced.”
“Justice McKay’s appointment is one of six new positions specifically to deal with our child protection caseload,” Chief Justice Lennox explained.
“He will be working in a milieu where he will see both the best and the worst of the human condition,” he added, noting a judge must always treat those who come before him with “courtesy, respect, dignity, and fairness.”
“To sit in judgment is a huge responsibility, a fact of which I am sure he will be forever mindful.”
“His Honour joins the outstanding group of citizens that is the Court of Justice of Ontario,” Robert Gordon said on behalf of Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant, who announced the appointment Oct. 31.
“[Justice McKay] has the breadth of experience to take on the challenges that this appointment represents,” he added, referring to his “remarkable record of achievement.”
Besides presiding in Fort Frances, Justice McKay also will travel to hear cases in other parts of the region.
This will be not much different from what he is already used to. Justice McKay spent 18 years practising law in Dryden, including working in remote First Nation communities.
He has practised in criminal, family, and child welfare law, and has been a deputy judge for small claims court.
“You will be joining a bench that is one of the hardest-working and most widely-travelled in the province,” said Thunder Bay lawyer Gilbert Labine, speaking on behalf of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, the Ontario Bar Association, the Canadian Bar Association, and the Advocates’ Society.
“Over the years, you have demonstrated that you are knowledgeable, understanding, and considerate,” echoed Kenora Lawyer Bev Wexler, on behalf of the District of Kenora Law Association.
Wexler added she was certain Justice McKay would “exhibit those same qualities from the bench.”
“We look forward to joining with you in the search for truth and in administering justice,” said Kenora Crown attorney Richard Cummine, on behalf of the regional director of Crown attorneys.
Justice Rod Clark, speaking on behalf of the Ontario Conference of Judges, quotes Socrates. “Four things belong to a judge: to hear courteously, to answer wisely, to consider soberly, and to decide impartially.”
Justice Platana, a long-time friend of Justice McKay, offered some words of advice: “The only guarantee you have is every time you make a decision, at least 50 percent of the people will think you’re absolutely wrong.”
For this reason, judges must do their work with a measure of humility as well as fairness, he added.
A friend of nearly 25 years, Regional Senior Justice Peter Bishop also offered words of encouragement to the new judge. “Wisdom consists of knowing when to avoid perfection,” he advised.
The newly-appointed Justice McKay thanked his two friends. “I owe a great deal to them for their encouragement and support over the years,” he said.
Practising law in rural areas has been a rewarding experience, saying, “You get to make a real difference in people’s lives.”
Although he has worked in Dryden for the last 18 years, Justice McKay was born in Rainy River District. He, his wife, and their two teenage children will be moving to Fort Frances in the near future.
“I look forward to moving to Fort Frances and becoming part of this community,” he said.