A plaque upon your court house

Posted on Tuesday, June 26th, 2012 at 12:38 am


A plaque was unveiled at the Hamilton Family Court House earlier today which has a special family connection I’m more than happy to share.

The Hamilton Family Court was the first Unified Family Court in Canada, beginning as a pilot project in 1977. It has complete jurisdiction over all family law matters in its area, thereby providing clients with a single court capable of responding to all issues arising from a family breakdown.

Prior to the creation of the Unified Family Court, a family in crisis needed to deal separately with as many as four different courts. Beginning in 1977 at the Hamilton Family Court, one judge in one court could determine all the issues in a family law dispute, whether a question of divorce, property, separation, or the custody of children. The same court has jurisdiction to hear charges against minors, proceedings for the protection, adoption and guardianship of children, or criminal charges such as spousal assault.

Since the opening of Hamilton Family Court, similar courts have been established in 16 other locations across Ontario. In all other sites across the province – representing 60 percent of the population including all of Toronto – family law matters are divided between the Ontario Court of Justice and the Superior Court of Justice. Why if this model is so successful that it shouldn’t have been copied by all 50 jurisdictions is anybody’s guess. It was The Honourable John Gerretsen, Attorney General of Ontario who as the last dignitary to speak finally said what was on everybody’s mind when he commented that as nice as it is that we’re here to celebrate the 35th anniversary, it will be a much greater celebration when all Ontarians in need of family law matters can have their cases dealt with through the Unified Family Court. He hoped that that day will soon come.

Referred to as “the founding fathers”, the founding judges of the Hamilton Family Court, appointed in 1977, were Justice David Steinberg, and the late Justices Patrick Gravely and my uncle, John Elston VanDuzer. Justice Steinberg, along with my aunt, Mrs. Joan VanDuzer (pictured), and Mrs. Ruth Gravely attended the unveiling.

It was surely a star-studded affair for in addition to those mentioned above, in attendance were The Honourable Rob Nicholson, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada; Chief Justice Warren Winkler; Chief Justice Heather Smith; Chief Justice Annemarie Bonkalo; and, Laurie Pawlitza, the Treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada. Everybody’s favourite attendee was the Hon. Lincoln Alexander. Another 100+ lawyers were there including wishart’s client, Daniel J. Rosenkrantz of Sullivan Festeryga LLP. It would be remiss of me not to mention The Honourable James R.H. Turnbull Regional Senior Judge for the Central South Region (and co-founder of The Joy and Hope of Haiti) was amongst the gathering of well-wishers.

Laurie Pawlitza brought the proverbial house down with a wry comment that it was a far better idea that a plaque won out over the original recommendation which was misspelled “plague.” A plague upon your court house. Now THAT would have been nasty!

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