If you are driving through Durham Region, east of Toronto, you best keep your eye on your speedometer.
If you get caught speeding, there’s a chance you may end up in the courtroom of Justice of the Peace Robert Boychyn.
Mr. Boychyn once sentenced a speeder to eight days in jail, even though non-racing offences in the Highway Traffic Act do not include any provision for jail time.
In another case, a 19-year-old with no prior record received six days in jail and a $2,000 fine for careless driving and racing. When the fine was reduced and the jail time quashed, the appellate judge noted that the amount of the penalty was twice the maximum allowed for the speeding offence.
In the decade since he was appointed, defendants who appear in the small windowless courtrooms on the ground floor of the headquarters for the regional municipality in Whitby, have faced discipline even more punitive than what the prosecution desires.
Mr. Boychyn, a lawyer, former local politician and chair of the Durham Regional Police Services Board, is also known for opining in court about the societal dangers of speeding.
“The message is not getting out there,” said Mr. Boychyn in sentencing the 19-year-old to incarceration. “You’re standing before the court and I am going to ensure that the message is received loud and clear by yourself.”
Just last month, the justice of the peace admonished a 13-year-old who was seeking bail after allegedly taking a truck for a joyride for not taking the court proceedings seriously.
In recent years, though, the courtroom conduct of Mr. Boychyn, 67, has come under increased scrutiny.
Provincial court judges have overturned decisions and questioned the fairness of some of his trials. There has also been at least one formal complaint to the oversight body for justices of the peace.
Justice Mary Teresa Devlin indicated in a ruling last fall that she was “appalled” after reviewing the transcript from the trial of Josephine Newman, whose convictions for running a red light, driving under suspension, and failing to notify a change of address were thrown out on appeal.
“One would almost believe that the Justice of the Peace did not know the law, or if he knew the law, he chose not to follow the law,” Judge Devlin said.
Ms. Newman’s appeal lawyer, Mark Halfyard, said the defence lawyer at the trial was “curtailed” in her attempts to cross-examine the police officer about certain topics.
“The evidence from the areas that were not permitted, were then used to convict,” Mr.Halfyard said.
When the defence suggested the fines requested by the prosecutor would cause financial hardship for Ms. Newman, the justice of peace asked if the 52-year-old woman would prefer to go to jail.
In the trial where he imposed the eight-day jail sentence, the prosecutor was admonished for suggesting the penalty was too severe.
“It does not become you to beg. The order has been made,” Mr. Boychyn said.
That jail term was quashed on appeal and Michael Boothe, a Toronto paralegal who acted for the defendant at the trial, said he attempted to explain that the section of the Highway Traffic Act only permitted fines. “We tried to tell him, but he does everything the way he wants,” said Mr. Boothe.
The formal complaint to the Justices of the Peace Review Council was filed by Toronto lawyer Michael Jagtoo in 2010, after he successfully appealed a speeding conviction. Mr. Boychyn had accused Mr. Jagtoo of “sharp practice” as a lawyer, for asking that his trial be adjourned.
The review council dismissed the complaint in the spring of 2011. In a letter to Mr. Jagtoo, it indicated that “upon reflection” the justice of the peace agreed his comments were “unnecessarily harsh” and that he had “genuinely learned from the experience.”
The response was unsatisfactory, said lawyer James Jagtoo, who represented his son in the appeal. The council’s decision “flies in the face of its own findings and that of the appeal judge,” he said.
The review council letter, which stated that Mr. Boychyn had gained insight into his conduct, was issued just a few weeks before he presided over the trial of Ms. Newman.
Mr. Boychyn “respectfully declined” to comment, when a request was made by The Globe and Mail through the office of the Chief Justice of the provincial court.
Those who appear regularly in his courtroom say that since the ruling of Judge Devlin, there appears to be a change in Mr. Boychyn’s demeanour and the sentences have not been as severe.
The review council will not comment on how it dealt with the Jagtoo complaint or the conduct of Mr. Boychyn.
“Unless the council has determined that there will be a public hearing into a complaint,” it will not “confirm or deny” that a complaint was ever filed or how it was resolved, said Marilyn King, registrar of the Justices of the Peace Review Council.
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