The Ministry of the Attorney General has launched consultations for an online system to handle some traffic tickets and other Provincial Offences Act infractions.
This “administrative monetary penalty system” would, if implemented, replace formal in-court procedures for resolving disputes. The consultation phase has been extended, to April 28.
The Ministry notes that the current system, which mirrors the criminal trial process, takes significant public resources, including costs for a justice of the peace, a prosecutor and the enforcement officer who laid the charge. “This is in addition to the inconvenience and expense often incurred by defendants, including the time and costs associated with finding legal representation, travel and child care costs, and taking time off work to attend court.”
With the current process, fines from provincial statutes or municipal bylaw infractions are paid immediately or challenged in court. Many court users find this “confusing and time-consuming,” according to the Ministry. “Through this consultation, Ontario will explore a simpler, faster and less expensive alternative to the current system.”
Stephen Parker, president of the Ontario Paralegal Association (OPA), says that if the AMP system is implemented, it would affect “the vast majority of paralegals” who represent clients with provincial offences matters. “The OPA is already working on responding to the consultation document and will also be discussing this situation with the Law Society,” he said.
Province Investigated AMP System for Several Years
In its 2011 “Modernizing the Provincial Offences Act” report, the Law Commission of Ontario (LCO) recommended an online resolution system, after consultations with stakeholders. Parker, who was one of the first provincial appointees on the Paralegal Standing Committee of the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC), recalls that when the LCO requested input, “The LSUC’s response was to say that AMPs should not be considered for Highway Traffic Act offences under Part I but parking tickets were OK.”
A consultation paper refers to the “access to justice” potential of the proposed system:
“The complexity of the current system may also pose barriers to meaningful access to justice. Those who wish to dispute provincial offence charges may find that the cost, length of time involved, formality and inconvenience of the court process are significant deterrents to fighting a ticket.”
Parker disagrees that the proposed system promotes access to justice. “It denies a person’s right to challenge the allegation of what is now an offence and be able to only dispute the penalty,” he says. “It may not be only police officers that will be authorized to issue ‘penalty notices.’ They are promoting this as a cost-cutting initiative for the municipalities and nothing to do with a person’s right to face their accuser.”
The Ministry is “playing up” problems with the current court-based system at its website, Parker adds. “Included is a chart comparing the current and proposed systems. They play up the ‘problems’ with the current system and simplify the proposed. The consultation questions within the document are aimed at the public as a market researcher would in couching the wording of the question in such a way so as to obtain the answers they are looking for.”
Distinguishing Between Serious & Regulatory Matters
Details of exactly how the online adjudication will work have not been released; the Ministry says it will consult with technology and subject-matter experts throughout the consultation process. and “independent hearing officers” will decide cases. Instead of an in-court hearing, the AMP process would be managed by “unbiased expert decision makers.” Resources for defendants include information about the dispute process, relevant legal considerations, available defences and evidence requirements.
Proportionality is another principle that AMP addresses, the consultation paper notes. By allowing court resources to focus on more-serious matters, an online system for POA cases may promote “greater respect for the rule of law and administration of justice” while providing online services the public has come to expect. The province says it is “more accurate” to distinguish regulatory offences from criminal cases, by using AMP for straightforward POA tickets. AMP would provide “a more appropriate way for the justice system to deal with less complex traffic infractions that would at the same time be simpler, faster and less expensive for Ontarians.”
British Columbia and Alberta are exploring AMPs for their provincial offences matters; a redirection pilot project has started in Red Deer, with an “impartial adjudicator” hearing traffic violation cases outside of court. Online Dispute Resolution is being tested in B.C. for tenancy and civil matters, and for Consumer Protection and Property Assessment appeals.
The province is also looking at the idea of putting some administrative tribunals online, and following jurisdictions such as British Columbia, which will soon start using Online Dispute Resolution for small claims and condo disputes.
In March, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Attorney General told the Law Times that the province is “in the early stages” of considering online dispute resolution technology for a number of administrative tribunals.