Published February 23, 2024

Ford defends political appointments to judge selection committee

By Allison Jones

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is defending his government's appointments of two former staffers to a committee that helps select provincial judges, saying he's not going to put Liberals or New Democrats in those roles.

The Toronto Star first reported that Matthew Bondy, a former deputy chief of staff to Ford, is the chair of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee, and Brock Vandrick, Ford's former director of stakeholder relations, is on the committee.

The appointments are made by Attorney General Doug Downey, and Ford said Friday that his Progressive Conservative government got elected "to get like-minded people in appointments."

"I'm not going to appoint some NDP or some Liberal," he said in response to a question at an unrelated news conference in Brampton, Ont.

Ford suggested that judges and justices of the peace are too lenient on criminals, and are letting people out on bail too frequently, so he wants to see more judicial officials appointed who will keep people in jail.

"How would you like it if someone kicked your door in, put a gun to your head, and all of a sudden you find out that criminal that did that is out on the streets the next day?" he said. 

"It's unacceptable. So every single appointment I can to find tough judges, tough JPs to keep guys in jail ... I'm going to do it. So, that's part of democracy. You voted a party in."

The committee – made up of three judges, three lawyers and seven members of the public – reviews applications and conducts interviews for prospective Ontario Court judges, then sends a ranked list of its recommendations to the attorney general, who appoints someone from that list. 

Liberal Leader Bonnie Crombie called on Ford to reverse the appointments.

"Let’s just be clear with what Premier Ford is saying here: he deliberately appointed former Conservative staffers to the nonpartisan committee that helps pick judicial nominees expressly to achieve desired partisan outcomes," Crombie wrote in a statement.

"​These are his own words — and it is entirely unacceptable. ​We do not want U.S.-style politicization of our courts."

Kristyn Wong-Tam, the NDP attorney general critic, said in a written statement that the appointments raise serious concerns about the impartiality of the process of appointing judges.

"Under this government, we have seen our court system spiral into chaos," Wong-Tam wrote. 

"We have seen serious cases get thrown out because of double-bookings and lack of resources, survivors forced to re-live their trauma because of repeated delays. Instead of fixing the mess in our courts, the Attorney General is focused on using their majority to award partisan patronage appointments and erode people’s faith in our justice system."

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said the government has given appointments to well-connected insiders for years.

Ford sparked a huge outcry in 2018 when he named family friend Ron Taverner as Ontario Provincial Police commissioner, an appointment Taverner ultimately turned down.

Ford's former chief of staff Dean French resigned in 2019 shortly after media outlets reported that a relative of his and a lacrosse friend of French's son were appointed to lucrative agents-general posts in London and New York City. A niece of French's wife resigned from her appointment to the Public Accountants Council after the NDP revealed the connection.

Jenni Byrne, a former principal secretary for Ford, was appointed to the Ontario Energy Board with an annual salary of about $197,000, and Charles Harnick, a former Tory cabinet minister, was made chair of Legal Aid Ontario. 

Past Progressive Conservative party president Rueben Devlin was granted a three-year term as a health-care adviser. 

Ford campaign adviser Ian Todd was appointed Ontario's trade representative to the United States, with a $350,000 salary. Failed Tory candidate Cameron Montgomery was appointed to lead a standardized testing organization.

Gavin Tighe, a Ford family lawyer, was also appointed to the Public Accountants Council. Tighe is also one of the lawyers Downey designated last year as King's Counsel, an honorary title done away with decades ago due to patronage concerns. The list also included the members of Ford's cabinet who are lawyers, Tory staffers, prominent Conservatives, and Downey himself.

Banner image: Ford delivers remarks at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto, Friday, Feb. 16, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2024.

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