Faculty of Applied Health & Community Studies
Degree: Court and Tribunal Agent
Year of graduation: 2005
Love of the law
How Sheridan got April Patterson into court
Walking into a municipal courtroom can be nerve-wracking. But for April Patterson, it’s a chance to pursue her love of the law. Patterson is a municipal prosecutor who spent several years at the City of Barrie before joining the City of Brampton in March, 2017. Her work takes her before justices of the peace and judges to prosecute charges ranging from speeding tickets to building code violations. While she may be coming up against people facing some tough times, she loves the variety her job brings. “I like the fact that I’m always on my toes,” she says.
Patterson also feels lucky to influence the law. Cases she prosecutes, especially those that are appealed, become part of the case law that informs future judicial decisions. She remembers one case in particular. A driver waiting to make a left-hand turn struck a motorcyclist who was passing in the oncoming lane. The driver was found guilty of a traffic violation and appealed the decision. Patterson wrote the argument against the appeal, and the judge upheld the driver’s conviction. Patterson says having the chance to influence case law decisions is challenging, and an exciting way to have an impact on Canada’s legal system. “There’s a lot of learning and it’s continuous learning as case law changes everything, all the time.”
“There’s a lot of learning and it’s continuous learning as case law changes everything, all the time.”
Patterson says her passion for her job all began in Sheridan’s Court and Tribunal Agent program (now called the Paralegal program). She became intrigued by the law while a university student, and found her place at Sheridan, where, in addition to her studies, she was also a peer mentor, a member of the Student Union and the voting student member of the College’s Board of Governors. Since graduation, she has continued to give back to the school annually by sponsoring an academic award for students in the Paralegal program so they too can fully benefit from all it has to offer. “All my instructors were extremely approachable and I could ask them a lot of questions,” she recalls. “Because they worked in the field, they had an understanding of how everything worked at that particular time.”
In Sheridan’s program, she learned the importance of documentation. For instance, during her field placement at the Newmarket Provincial Offences Court, she learned that a critical part of the job is ensuring all the tickets issued by the police are stamped and filed in the time allowed. Today, she prosecutes over 100 cases a day, which means she often runs up against backlogs in the court system. She says defendants sometimes have to come back to court two or three times if a justice of the peace isn’t available to hear a case, and that can cause tempers to rise.
“I’m dealing with the public who are already upset when they come to court, but their feelings are heightened when they can’t be heard. I have to talk to those people and try and diffuse the situation and hope that when they come back there’s a justice of the peace there for them.”
Patterson says it’s important to her to make sure cases are tried fairly, because while some defendants have paralegals or lawyers to represent them, most represent themselves. She says that puts a greater onus on her to ensure they’re treated fairly.
“I have a higher standard than the defense does when it comes to a prosecution of a file,” she says. “I have to make sure everything is correct when I start a prosecution … There’s a higher ethical duty on me to make sure all my ducks are in a row and that I don’t proceed on anything unless I believe there is a reasonable prospect of conviction.”