My day in court
|By Lisa Gervais - Editor | February 14, 2019|
There were plenty of cars in the parking lot of the Minden council chambers this past Tuesday - and it wasn’t a council day. Provincial Offences Act (POA) court returned to Minden after a 19.5-month hiatus. So, I decided to check it out.
One of the first things I noticed was the number of police and Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) vehicles in the parking lot. Once inside, the cops and conservation officers took up a fair bit of bench space and spilled out into the foyer.
As we all waited for court to start at 9:30 a.m. there was the usual banter between the court clerk and the two benches - one representing prosecutors and the other defence. At one point the clerk advised the prosecution bench ‘may the force be with you,’ which drew a Star Wars-related reply. Just before the Justice of the Peace arrived, the clerk wished everyone a good morning, warned us to turn off or silence electronic devices and advised the pubic they should take their conversations outside.
The half-hour arrived. We were told to “all rise” and JP Ronald Prestage walked up to his perch. Bespectacled with a bald head, grey beard and moustache, wearing his black robes and a green sash, JP Prestage called out “welcome back to Minden everyone.”
We took our seats and the proceedings began. As the next hour or so ticked by, I made three observations. One: People in Haliburton County or visiting Haliburton County like to wear camouflage. Two: Oh, yeah, that is probably because they are hunters who happen to be facing MNRF charges like baiting migratory birds or shooting moose out of season. Three: Some people up here like to speed as there were Highway Traffic Act infractions left, right and centre. There was also a case of an inoperable seatbelt, a fail to surrender drivers’ licence and some vehicle insurance issues. There were lots of guilty pleas and lots of fines handed out - in the thousands of dollars.
I chatted with Toronto lawyer Doug Poirier, who represents the MNRF in court. He thought it was great POA court was back in Minden. Even though it meant a longer drive for him on this day - as opposed to Lindsay - Poirier commented on the fairness and appropriateness of holding court in the jurisdiction where people have been charged. I chatted with one of the local Haliburton OPP officers. He’s happy court’s resumed in Minden and commented on how much more convenient and manageable it was for him and his colleagues. The conservation folks agreed.
I’m not exactly sure how the clientele felt. I stopped two people. One was from Stirling. The other from Whitby so the actual drive to Minden Hills was much longer than if they had to have appeared in Lindsay. But, that’s not the point. People facing Minden POA court this past Feb. 12 were doing so because they had been accused of breaking laws within Haliburton County. As such, it is only right that they should face those charges in front of our community, not elsewhere.
As for the shortage of JPs that got us into this mess in the first place [the need to shut down the local POA court] we can only hope the current provincial government keeps its eye on the prize and ensures that Ontario addresses JP shortages in a timely manner in future.
Lisa Gervais is the editor for The Highlander.