Montreal, November 15, 2010 • No 283


Randy Hillier is MPP (Member of Provincial Parliament) for Lanark Frontenac, Lennox & Addington (Ontario).



Grand Juries are Democracies' Grand Idea


by Randy Hillier


          Successive governments through the years have gradually and incrementally neutered the individual's ability to hold those governments accountable or to punish those who break trust with the electorate. The abolition of grand juries was one of the steps which took power away from the people. It is time to re-introduce grand juries into the Ontario justice system, and provide people with a most essential democratic tool, second only to our right to vote.


          First we must dispel any myth that grand juries are an American creation. In truth they originated with British common law and were the ultimate means for citizens to protect themselves from abuses by agents of the Crown, and also a means to scrutinize the many activities of the Crown enacted on behalf of the people.

          Unlike the common perception gleaned from American TV, grand juries serve the people in three important ways. Firstly, they can investigate government agencies, boards, commissions or other subordinate bodies of parliament and not only render decisions upon their actions, but also compel compliance. Secondly, this same authority can be exercised over both the political and bureaucratic arms of government. Lastly, grand juries can also act and initiate indictments where the Crown is fearful of proceeding with criminal charges against individuals or corporations.

          With the recent litany of Ontario scandals, spending abuses and issues the government is loathe to resolve, it is clear our government is increasingly acting in a manner that is contrary to public expectation. The e-Health and OLG spending scandals, the G-20 fiasco, as well as the HST and Eco-Tax grab, are clear examples of the need for public oversight.

          People clearly need a mechanism to hold government and its officials to account and indict those who have acted contrary to the law. Grand juries can serve this purpose, and rejuvenate people's participation in democracy.

          It is without argument that individual citizens are the predominate authority in any democratic country, and all other authority is derived from the will and consent of the electors. It is also without argument that the trend in Ontario and indeed throughout Canada is that our democracy is increasingly being weakened by apathy, distrust, complacency, and ignorance. Grand juries are a practical, effective and proven method of restoring the people's fundamental authority. Making ordinary citizens a part of the process will help reverse these alarming trends.

"Grand juries are the people's only independent mechanism to hold government and their officials accountable and protect people from the corruption of power between elections. The real check and balance is the grand jury—the common person, selected at random."

          It is only when citizens have the appropriate tools that they can uphold justice. Grand juries are granted the power to conduct investigations independent of Crown agents & prosecutors who might otherwise interfere. This process ensures that the grand jury's power of independence with oversight of the government is unassailable.

          Unfortunately, over our history the role and authority of grand juries were incrementally diminished by statute and regulation until they provided such little value that they were eventually abolished. Nova Scotia was the last Canadian province to abolish their grand juries in 1984.

          Decades ago, governments diminished the role of grand juries by creating new oversight bodies such as the ombudsman, integrity and privacy commissioners and a host of others. Although these new bureaucracies are expected to be independent, they have provided only nominal oversight. It is self-evident that while these offices depend upon the government of the day for their budgets and serve at the pleasure of the Premier, they cannot be truly independent. The recent scandal over the re-appointment of Andre Marin as Ombudsman proves this beyond a doubt.

          Unlike grand juries, these parliamentary officers often have their mandate defined by the reigning government. These restrictions allow governments to shield the full extent of their activities while appearing to comply with the demands of the public, as witnessed by several recent Auditor Generals' reports into e-health and healthcare lobbyists.

          Grand juries are the people's only independent mechanism to hold government and their officials accountable and protect people from the corruption of power between elections. The real check and balance is the grand jury—the common person, selected at random.

          This may come as a surprise to many people, but government bureaucracy, politicians and their voluminous agencies do not always represent people accurately or honestly. There is no shock in stating that except at election time, individual private citizens have become insignificant and are absent in the ivory towers of government.

          The grand jury remains the citizens' greatest defense against government misconduct. It levels out the ivory towers to a height no greater than that of our homes.