Disputes in the Social Justice cluster of tribunals — including Landlord & Tenant, the Social Benefits Tribunal and the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario — may be moved out of the public system, to an online dispute resolution system (ODR).
Brendan Crawley, Senior Coordinator, Media Relations Communications Branch with the Ministry of the Attorney General, confirmed the ODR plan is in the early planning stages.
“The Ministry of the Attorney General is aware of the potential for online dispute resolution and is in the early stages of considering its use for a number of ministry programs,” Crawley said. “It has potential application for resolving not only court disputes but also some kinds of disputes in administrative tribunals, as well as for taking some of those disputes out of the public system entirely.”
British Columbia introduced legislation in March, to have some condo and small claims disputes settled through binding online arbitration. Praised by the condo industry and legal community as a cheaper, faster method of resolving issues, the province’s site is expected to start handling cases this summer. Nova Scotia started using an online AMP system for Workplace Health & Safety infractions, in 2013.
No decisions have been made about whether and where to use an ODR system for Ontario tribunals.
The Ministry of Attorney General is following the progress of the Civil Resolution Tribunal in B.C. and has been in touch with the people managing it. “That project makes clear that setting up a functional ODR system, with a good deal of automation in the early stages, is quite complex and time-consuming,” Crawley notes. “There are no off-the-shelf systems available. For the Ministry, ODR is one tool among a number to make the public dispute resolution system more efficient and accessible. It appears to have a good deal of potential in the medium term, but it is not without its difficult issues.”
Similarities With AMPs Proposal for Provincial Offences
Other countries have launched ODR initiatives for private-law cases, notably in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. At an international level, developing an ODR system for the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) have been under development for some time.
As reported first in Scope Magazine March 3, the ODR proposal for tribunals comes at the same time the province is considering an online administrative monetary penalty (AMP) system for certain Provincial Offences and municipal bylaws. Consultations have begun for that plan, which many paralegals say will reduce the amount of work available in the POA area of practice.
While some fear the online dispute system would not allow defendants the chance to dispute their tickets, Crawley says individuals with traffic or parking tickets “would still have the opportunity to dispute their tickets before an unbiased decision maker.” The ministry would need to work out how the proposed new AMP system would work with existing local municipal parking AMP systems. Crawley also points out that, despite rumours to the contrary, no offences that carry a potential imprisonment penalty would be covered under an AMP system, and demerit points will still apply.
“Transitioning towards an AMP system would not lessen the seriousness of existing offences or the penalties (e.g. fine, suspension) imposed,” he said. “While monetary penalties do not lead to convictions or pose a risk of imprisonment, administrative sanctions, like demerit points or license suspensions, could still be imposed.”