An Ontario judge known for his freewheeling courtroom style is in hot water again, this time for denigrating several of his brethren and making light of a defendant's Roma ancestry.
In a rare admonishment to a sitting judge, the Ontario Court of Appeal upbraided Mr. Justice Eugene Ewaschuk of the Ontario Superior Court for being insensitive to Roma and for making "injudicious" comments about other judges.
"Some exchanges regarding the definition and origin of the term Roma were unfortunate and not pertinent," Mr. Justice Paul Rouleau said in a 3-0 ruling.
These included Judge Ewaschuk's repeated references to the fact that Adolf Horvath - a Hungarian national who is fighting extradition - didn't look like "a typical Gypsy."
"It doesn't appear that he belongs to a band of Gypsies who live in - and this may be a bad stereotype - who go from town to town in wagons and such, or even caravans of cars," Judge Ewaschuk remarked at one point.
In another exchange, he expressed skepticism about the term Roma, and cracked that its primary dictionary definition is an "Italian tomato."
Bluff, hearty and possessed of a booming voice, Judge Ewaschuk peppered Mr. Horvath's appeal of an extradition order with dismissive references to fellow judges or their rulings, including:
Describing Mr. Justice Peter Fraser of the B.C. Supreme Court as "a pretty arrogant judge."
Referring to Mr. Justice Thomas Lofchik of the Ontario Superior Court as "the Hungarian judge from Hamilton."
Characterizing Mr. Justice Bruce Hawkins of the Ontario Superior Court as "sputtering all over the place" during a particular case.
Describing a judgment by Madam Justice Anne Malloy of the Ontario Superior Court as "not the strongest authority," and commenting that a particular aspect of it was "absurd."
Mr. Horvath alleges that he fled Hungary several years ago because he and his family had been repeatedly abused by skinheads and police on account of their Roma ancestry. He maintains that he would be persecuted again were he returned to Hungary to face several extortion and fraud-related charges.
At Mr. Horvath's extradition appeal, defence lawyers Gregory Lafontaine and Ronald Poulton said Judge Ewaschuk's "judicial fixation" with their client's ancestry was distasteful and created an apprehension of bias.
They said the historical persecution of the Roma continues to this day: "It is submitted that the Roma people should not have been treated as if they were a joke in a Canadian court."
Notwithstanding their disapproval, the Court of Appeal upheld the extradition order and ruled that Judge Ewaschuk was impartial.
"My client, his family and, as I understand it, others who belong to the local Roma community have a lot of difficulty with what happened in this case," Mr. Lafontaine said in an interview yesterday. "My client is asking the Supreme Court of Canada to hear an appeal of the last week's decisions."
Known in legal circles as Tex because of the unique brand of candid, sometimes irreverent patter he issues from the bench, Judge Ewaschuk has talked his way into trouble before.
In a 2004 ruling, the Ontario Court of Appeal disapproved of him chatting with jurors during a murder trial and loudly disparaging the defendant's lawyer in the vicinity of the courtroom.