May 25th, 2020
Board Members and Stakeholders,
The Ontario Review Board is, as we all are, responding to an unprecedented challenge.
We have a statutory mandate which we must interface with some profound limitations that could not possibly have been contemplated by parliament while drafting the Criminal Code provisions which govern our proceedings. We are a ‘statutory court’ which means that our jurisdiction is limited by those provisions. At the same time, we may look to the Code, our Rules, and jurisdiction found by way of ‘necessary implication’ to temper those provisions; the latter being powers or authority implied where necessary and essential.
On-site hearings remain, at this time, not possible. As you know, the ORB has canvassed various options. We remain of the view that virtual hearings conducted through audio-visual internet connection are our best alternative. This alternative comports with the best medical advice as it permits board members and parties to attend hearings and participate remotely. More specifically, while there may be pros and cons to various electronic alternatives or ‘platforms’, we have selected the Zoom Video Communication system as it is both efficient and user-friendly.
We have conducted tests, held demonstration sessions with Board members and stakeholders, and have kept up our previously determined schedules electronically. These continue to go very well. We are confident that our mandate is being effectively met employing this medium. That is not to say that the system is perfect or that there may not be some unanswered questions, arguable inconsistencies with the Code, or procedural glitches that could not have been anticipated.
The ORB has full confidence that whatever accommodations the hospitals are able to provide to assist the accused in attending hearings remotely will comport with the best medical advice and that they will take all appropriate precautions. Having said that, where an accused has health concerns related to their available mode of connection to the hearing they have a number of options. They may:
1) Request to be absent for all or part of the hearing (with counsel in attendance),
2) Phone-in to the hearing, or
3) Seek an adjournment to a time when we will likely have resumed on-site hearings.
For those who have misgivings with respect to the Board’s jurisdiction to conduct hearings employing this technology the alternative would be to apply to have the matter adjourned to a time when we might anticipate a resumption of on-site hearings.
I am hopeful that we can all rise to the occasion in order to serve the vulnerable people under the Board’s jurisdiction and fulfill our statutory mandate as it is essential to the protection of the public as well as the liberty and rehabilitation interests of the accused.
Richard D. Schneider,
Chair, Ontario Review Board