Justice of the Peace makes history

Justice of the Peace makes history

February 24, 2019

It’s not uncommon for people to see something in you that you might not see in yourself.

In high school, Martha De Gannes’ deceased teacher recognized she was gifted and talented and let her mother know about it.

Years later while working with the Ministry of Attorney General Criminal Law Division, a judge encouraged her to apply to be a Justice of the Peace (JP).

“When I looked at the qualifications for the position, I realized I could tick off every box because I had done almost everything and had the experience,” said De Gannes. “I have strong interpersonal skills, I love interacting with my community and I possess good analytical skills and judgment.”

Twelve years after being appointed to the Ontario Court of Justice as a JP and serving as the only Black female judicial officer in Oshawa since 2011, De Gannes made history earlier this month as the first Black female regional senior JP.

Responsible for the Central East region that includes Durham, York, Collingwood, Peterborough, Bracebridge, Cobourg, Wasaga Beach and Barrie, she will oversee approximately 60 JPs.

Regional senior JPs advise and assist the associate chief justice/co-ordinator of justices of the peace and the regional senior judge in matters pertaining to JPs.

Making the transition from Trinidad & Tobago to Toronto at age 10 was tough for De Gannes who lived in four community housing projects by the time she had graduated from high school.

Her first year in university was very challenging.

“My mom was single and working long hours to support us and as the big sister, I felt I had an obligation to take care of my younger sibling,” De Gannes, who was the local administrative JP in Oshawa for the last year, recounted. “I was also living in an environment that wasn’t uplifting and that didn’t help. It was just too much for me and I really struggled.”

Taking matters into her own hands, she transferred from York University to the University of Waterloo.

That was a turning point in De Gannes’ life.

“I won a student leadership award, took a minor in legal studies and worked in the landlord & tenant office,” she said. “I felt confident and empowered. That was one of the best decisions I have ever made.”

Unable to afford to go to law school, De Gannes went to work for the Ontario Public Service where she spent 15 years.

As a labour relations adviser, she presented employment-related cases before various boards, commissions, tribunals and mediation hearings and in senior management positions with the Ministry of the Attorney General Criminal Law Division, she undertook justice matters related to domestic violence, the bail safety program, victim services, high risk offenders and other initiatives in the justice sector.

Just days after her historic appointment, De Gannes’ youngest daughter received a letter indicating she was accepted into the Legislative Assembly of Ontario page program.

That was a proud moment for the single mother of four girls whose ages range from 12 to 25.

“My youngest girl was just a year when I got the JP position,” said De Gannes. “Even though I did a lot of travelling in the first four years and was very busy in my new role, my children stayed on track and are all doing very well. They are my pride and joy.”

The eldest has a Master of Science degree, the second oldest is completing an undergraduate degree in sociology at Brock University and the third one is pursuing sociology studies at Queen’s University and will apply to their law school next year.

De Gannes credits her mother and maternal grandmother, who was born in Grenada, for her success.

“My mom didn’t have much financially to give us, but she remembered what that teacher told her and always reminded me that I have a gift and I shouldn’t waste it,” she noted. “She was always there for me as was my grandma who taught me lessons of strength and what it means to sacrifice. She spent time with me at the kitchen table making sure I did my homework and always reminded me that I am special.”

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