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George Strathy

Courts working on policies on judges’ COVID jabs; Ont. C.A. staying with virtual hearings for now

Wednesday, September 08, 2021 @ 2:18 PM | By Cristin Schmitz

Last Updated: Friday, September 10, 2021 @ 1:01 PM


The Ontario Court of Appeal and the Ontario Court of Justice, Canada’s largest trial court, are both working on COVID-19 vaccination policies for their judges.

“A policy regarding vaccination for the judiciary is being developed, but has not been finalized,” Jacob Bakan, special counsel to the Office of Chief Justice of Ontario George Strathy, explained in an e-mailed response to The Lawyer’s Daily which asked what one of Canada’s most influential appellate courts is doing to ensure COVID-19 vaccinations of its members and court staff.

 Chief Justice of Ontario George Strathy

Chief Justice of Ontario George Strathy

Bakan said the Court of Appeal is presently considering a possible return to in-person hearings in mid-October but, in the meantime, continues with only virtual hearings.

“In formulating our plans and policies regarding a return to in-person hearings, we will continue to be guided by public health advice, as we have been throughout the pandemic,” he said.

When it comes to courthouse staff, Bakan noted that workers are members of Ontario’s public service and, as such, “will be required to be fully vaccinated or undertake regular testing.”

The Appeal Court is also discussing with Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General about what policies apply to other people who attend at the courthouse, he said.

The Ontario Superior Court — the nation’s largest superior trial court — told The Lawyer’s Daily that “judges hearing matters in Ontario Superior Court of Justice courthouses are expected to be vaccinated.” However, the court’s statement did not disclose what policies and enforcement actions, if any, Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz is taking to ensure that the court’s 276 judges are actually vaccinated for COVID-19 — in compliance with the court’s expressed “expectation.”

“Members of the public can expect that judges hearing matters in-person in courts will be fully vaccinated,” the court elaborated in a subsequent e-mail. “This is something the chief justice and the executive of the court are dedicated to ensuring.”

The superior court also noted that on Aug. 31, 2021, the chief justice issued an order for 30 days (which could be extended) deferring potential jurors from jury duty if they are not vaccinated.

 Chief Justice Lise Maisonneuve

Chief Justice Lise Maisonneuve

As for Canada’s busiest trial court with 383 members (including part-time judges) — the Ontario Court of Justice led by Chief Justice Lise Maisonneuve, is also “considering vaccination requirements for the judiciary,” said court spokesperson, Dahlia Saibil, in an e-mailed statement.

Asked to elaborate, the provincial court replied “at this time, we do not have any further information to provide to you regarding vaccination requirements for the judiciary.”

The provincial court referred questions about vaccination for court staff to Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General, given that its staff are members of Ontario’s public service. “The rules governing courthouse safety are the responsibility of the Ministry of the Attorney General,” the court said.

The Lawyer’s Daily is asking the chief justices and chief judges of all the courts in Canada what policies, if any, they have with respect to mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for the judges of their courts and court staff.

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for The Lawyer’s Daily please contact Cristin Schmitz at Cristin.Schmitz@lexisnexis.ca or at 613-820-2794.