The Inaccessibility of Justice in Ontario’s Adjudicative Tribunals: Symptoms and Diagnosis

Draft under review, September 2023

Four of Ontario’s highest-volume adjudicative tribunals became seriously dysfunctional in late 2018. Systemic delays of months or years arose, basic procedural rights were abandoned, and substantive miscarriages of justice became common in the fields of residential tenancy, human rights, and entitlement to benefits. This article describes these symptoms, before seeking to diagnose the underlying problem. The proximate cause of the dysfunction was the approach to tribunal appointments taken by the executive branch of Ontario’s government. Members appointed by the previous government were “de-appointed” en masse, and meritorious replacements were not found promptly. Some of these problems began prior to 2018. Shortcomings in the other two branches of Ontario’s government also contributed to the dysfunctionality. The Ontario Legislature’s statute governing adjudicative tribunals, and its committee overseeing appointments, lacked the powers and resources that would be necessary to safeguard them from executive neglect. Meanwhile, Ontario’s courts are not an accessible and proportionate forum to backstop adjudicative tribunals. Moreover, a review of the case law shows that they lack doctrinal tools to hold the Government responsible for systemic delay and counterproductive appointment practices.

Full Draft Paper on SSRN:

Adjudicative Tribunals: In Need of Friends in High Places Legal Access to Justice Column, April 19 2023.

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Each year, over 100,000 Ontarians seek justice from Tribunals Ontario. This group of people —the size of a small city— includes tenants, landlords, motor vehicle accident victims seeking insurance benefits, people denied disability benefits, and those who believe that their fundamental human rights have been infringed. This group of 100,000 is significantly larger than the number of plaintiffs who start civil lawsuits in the Superior Court of Justice each year. The numbers are similar in other provinces. For most civil rights, tribunals are Canadians’ first and only opportunity to seek authoritative dispute-resolution and enforcement.

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Justice Denied: Constitutional Remedies for Systemic Delay Access to Justice Column, December 14 2022

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Justice Delayed

Suppose you run a small widget-making business in Ontario. You sent crates of widgets worth $100k to a customer, but they refuse to pay. They say there’s something wrong with the widgets, but you know this isn’t true and you can prove it. The good news is that contract law obliges your customer to pay you, and procedural law allows you to seize their assets to satisfy the debt if they don’t. The bad news is that, if you sue and the other side plays hardball, it will probably take at least four or five years to get the matter to trial. By that point, the mounting toll of wasted hours and legal fees may well have led you to abandon your claim, or settle it for pennies on the dollar. If you do persevere, there’s a good chance your defendant will have disappeared or gone bankrupt by the time you get your judgment.

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Better Access to Better Justice: The Potential of Procedural Reform

Canadian Bar Review, Vol 100, No. 2

Improving access to justice is often identified as a goal of reforms to legal procedure. What does access to justice mean in this context? This article proposes that “better access” and “better justice” should be understood as distinct but overlapping goals. Access improves when procedural costs confronting litigants are reduced. Justice has three qualities—substantive justice, procedural justice, and public justice—which legal procedure can produce to a greater or lesser degree. Although access and justice are sometimes in tension as goals for procedural reform, they are also harmonious. Better access to better justice is a worthy goal for procedural reformers. Welfarism is introduced in the final part of the article, as a way to focus access to justice reforms and make the necessary tradeoffs. This article’s argument is illustrated by three procedural reform trends—mandatory mediation, smaller-dollar procedure, and inquisitoriality.

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Justice at Tribunals: At the Government’s Whim Access to Justice Column, April 7, 2022

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Suppose that “JM” is a Canadian person, who believes that their legal rights have been infringed. The problem might have arisen at work, at home, with a corporation, or with some part of the government. JM has tried to resolve the matter privately with the other side, but got nowhere. Next, JM did some online research and perhaps spoke to a lawyer. It turns out there is a public body that’s supposed to make decisions, and uphold rights, in disputes like JM’s.

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