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More 'like-minded people': Conservative party loyalists appointed to justices of the peace advisory committee

Premier Doug Ford rebuffs accusations of patronage by saying he wants 'tough' judges and justices of the peace
Attorney General Doug Downey in the Ontario legislature on Nov. 28, 2023

A pair of political appointments that kicked off a controversy over Premier Doug Ford’s desire to appoint tough-on-crime judges are not the only ones of their kind.

The Progressive Conservative government has been appointing people with ties to Conservative politics to the committee that shortlists justice of the peace (JP) candidates for years, a Trillium analysis finds.

Ford has not been shy about his aim: He’s appointing “like-minded” people to the committees that vet judge and JP candidates to get those who are tough on crime on the bench.

The premier has specifically railed against “judges” who “let these people out on bail.”

However, nearly all bail hearings in Ontario are presided over by JPs, not provincial court judges. Justices of the Peace, who currently earn $172,000 annually, are also authorized to issue search warrants and preside over provincial offences trials.

His government has appointed Conservative-minded people to the committee that helps select them, too.

The chair of the Justices of the Peace Appointments Advisory Committee (JPAAC) is Michael Ras, a longtime Conservative and provincial lobbyist. Ras ran unsuccessfully for the federal Conservatives in a Mississauga riding in 2021.

Ras, who was appointed chair in 2019, is a senior vice president and Ontario Practice Lead at Counsel Public Affairs. 

Two of the “regional leads” on the committee, John Henderson and Nicholas Charitsis also have long Progressive Conservative party ties. Another member, Brandon Postuma, was a candidate for the party in the 2018 provincial election and finished third in the riding of Thunder-Bay Atikokan.

Henderson is a former riding association president in the Thunder Bay area and was a candidate for the party in the 1999 provincial election.

Charitsis, a Toronto lawyer, has donated to the Progressive Conservative party on several occasions. On his firm website, he describes himself as a “key strategic and legal adviser” to then-party leader Patrick Brown in 2018. The site says Charitsis set up a committee called “Project Lazarus” to defend Brown against sexual misconduct allegations. (Brown’s defamation suit against CTV News was settled out of court, with the broadcaster publicly admitting that some details in its report were factually incorrect.)

At least 14 of the 27 JPAAC members have made political donations to the provincial and federal Conservative parties in recent years, including in one case, directly to Attorney General Doug Downey's riding association, according to the Elections Ontario and Elections Canada databases.

Henderson and Charitsis did not respond to requests for comment, and Downey's press secretary did not reply to requests for comment or a list of written questions that were submitted.

Ras defended his work and that of the committee and dismissed any suggestion that it is partisan. “Your premise is false,” said Ras.

He added that he stepped down from the committee in 2021 when he was a Conservative candidate and was reappointed to the committee after the election.

Ford has faced criticism from lawyers’ groups and even retired senior judges since the Toronto Star first reported that Matthew Bondy, the chair of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee and another one of the seven lay members, Brock Vandrick were former senior government staffers. They are not the only lay members with Conservative ties.

Scott Munnoch, a partner at Temple Scott Associates, was a former adviser to Mike Harris and tour director for the late Brian Mulroney when he was prime minister. Keith Strachan, a business owner in Barrie, is a former president of the federal Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte Conservative riding association — the riding that Downey represents provincially. Holly Haire, an event coordinator in Wasaga Beach, previously worked as the executive assistant for Conservative MP Kellie Leitch.

None of the three responded to requests for comment.

Bondy, Vandrick and Munnoch are also registered with the province as lobbyists.

When asked about the Conservative party connections on the judicial advisory committee, Ford has mentioned his desire to get “tough” JPs as well as judges appointed. 

"So every single appointment I can to find tough judges, tough JPs, to keep guys in jail — and I say guys, because 99.9 per cent are guys — I'm going to do it,” said Ford last month.

The Supreme Court of Canada has repeatedly stressed that any decision on bail must take into account the fact that the individuals before the court have not yet been convicted of the charges they face. 

“The setting of bail conditions must be consistent with the presumption of innocence and the right not to be denied reasonable bail without just cause,” Justice Sheilah Martin for a unanimous Supreme Court of Canada in R v. Zora. “The presumption of innocence is a hallowed principle lying at the very heart of criminal law [that] confirms our faith in humankind,” she added.

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