The local law association had one of its major concerns heard during a talk with the visiting attorney general last week.
Members of the Rainy River Law Association had the opportunity to sit down with Attorney General of Ontario Doug Downey during his visit to Fort Frances on Friday.
Downey stopped in Fort Frances with Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford as part of a two-day schedule that included the announcement of a new justice centre in Kenora.
President of the Rainy River Law Association and town councillor Doug Judson thanked Rickford for keeping up to date on some of the issues he said the law association is facing.
“Up front, it’s important to acknowledge that our MPP has been abreast of our local justice community’s circumstances since he was running and he has stayed in regular contact with the law association and other stakeholders since elected on some of those issues,” Judson said.
“I believe this is probably the first time in a long time that the provincial attorney general has come to Fort Frances and we certainly appreciate that he made himself available to meet with not just the law association, but other justice stakeholders.”
One of the main points Judson said they discussed was the lack of a sitting judge for the Fort Frances area.
“We talked about the fact that we haven’t had a provincial judge since 2012,” Judson said.
“The attorney general certainly expressed an understanding of what it why it’s important to have locally-based people in local offices and what that means for how the system functions and you know, I’m sure that discussion will continue.”
Judson explained that due to how the appointment process works, the attorney general cannot directly place a judge in Fort Frances, but rather can bring the concerns of the Rainy River Law Association to the Ontario Chief Justice.
Judson said that the ideal outcome for the local law association would be legislation that would decree at least one Crown attorney and one judge for each northern judicial district.
“I don’t know that that’s going to happen,” he said.
“We’re looking to the province to step in and help us to make sure that we have a more workable system for our communities here. We’re probably the only judicial district in the province, if not the entire country, that doesn’t have a provincial court judge.”
One of the benefits to having local judges is that they understand the needs of the community better than a judge that travels in from out of town. Judson explained that there are also practical considerations to having a local judge.
“When we’re relying on judges to travel here, mostly from Kenora and Dryden, the judge wants to leave home mid-morning because they’ve got other things to do where they work,” he said.
“And then they want to be back before dark and it gets dark early here for half of the year. And so you have people sitting in court especially in family courts who are waiting for their for their appearances, we never get to them and they get put over to another day and it leads to delay and it cost people money because they’re paying out of pocket for counsel to be there.”
The other drawback to not having a local judge is the impact it can have on legal professionals who might look to move to a town like Fort Frances.
“Our bar is mostly aging, but if you are a young lawyer who’s looking to set up shop somewhere in the Northwest, you’re probably going to choose Kenora, Dryden, Sioux Lookout or Thunder Bay and not Fort Frances,” Judson said.
“And the reason for that is that on paper we don’t have a full-service court and you can get a better practice with more opportunities in those other centres.
“So eventually we’re going to start to feel the pain of not being attractive place to practice.”
The attorney general also said that he’d had discussions about the state of the Fort Frances jail during his time in town, as well as other courthouse security-related issues.
On the subject of the jail, minister Rickford said he’s spoken with the solicitor general about the matter.
“There are obviously serious problems with both the Kenora and the Fort Frances jail, and we’re taking a look at our options as we speak,” Rickford said.
“I’ll have more to say about that in the short term.”