Editorial: Chisvin owes an explanation

Was Ontario Court Justice Howard Chisvin simply having a bad day last year when he rebuked a Crown prosecutor for being late and dismissed a slew of criminal matters in response?

Did he have a bad relationship with the Crown in question or was he simply fed up with lateness and adjournments in general? Was he exasperated with repeated delays in the justice system?

We don’t know what was going through Chisvin’s mind because he hasn’t elected to reveal it. But given the complaint about him to the Ontario Judicial Council, we’ll hopefully get a better sense soon of what he was thinking when he took actions that the Ontario Court of Appeal has now labelled “illegal and an abuse of judicial authority.”

That Chisvin went too far is obvious. As the appeal court noted in its ruling in one of the dismissed cases, R. v. Siciliano, last week, Chisvin made his dramatic move in response to the Crown’s lateness after it took the judge himself 22 minutes to return from a 20-minute adjournment.

The prosecutor ended up being about 10 minutes late. While he apologized and told Chisvin he had been reading a presentence report he had just received, the judge wasn’t having any of it.

Not only did Chisvin dismiss the case against Mauro Siciliano, who had already pleaded guilty to three charges, he did so for all remaining provincial matters on his list for that day.

If Chisvin is frustrated with delays in the justice system, he should find another way to express them other than intemperately dismissing cases for a lawyer’s 10-minute lateness.

His frustration with someone’s tardiness doesn’t outweigh society’s need for justice in criminal matters and even less so the concerns of the victims of those offences.

Of course, appeal court justices David Doherty, Susan Lang, and Gloria Epstein have made their feelings about the matter clear: “The trial judge’s actions were high-handed and did a real disservice to the proper administration of justice.”

In the meantime, the Siciliano matter now goes back to Chisvin for sentencing after the appeal court quashed his dismissal of the charges.

Maybe then the judge will offer some idea of why he ruled as he did. If not, let’s hope the complaint before the Ontario Judicial Council results in shedding more light on the matter.

— Glenn Kauth

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