June 14, 2024

Inexcusable: The absence of permanent, competent Associate Chairs at Tribunals Ontario

The absence of permanent, competent Associate Chairs at Tribunals Ontario spells disaster for adjudicative tribunals and betrays a lack of commitment to providing leadership when and where it is most needed.

Why are there ongoing vacancies of key leadership positions at Tribunals Ontario?

With rumours of a snap election circulating in the media, what is preventing the government from filling the leadership positions at adjudicative tribunals with timely appointment of skilled professionals?

Tribunal Watch Ontario has consistently called for open, transparent, merit-based competitions to find appropriate candidates, particularly for tribunal leadership positions. As recently as January 2024, we implored the government to satisfy the need for effective leadership at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario: Help Wanted: Effective Leadership at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. We noted that there have been five Associate Chairs in as many years. The expertise has evaporated; the backlogs keep growing: The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario: A Continuing Crisis.

Earlier this year, Tribunals Ontario announced that two of its Associate Chairs would assume the duties of chairing the HRTO. At the time there was no mention whether this arrangement was on an interim basis. However, after six months and with no public posting for a full-time Associate Chair, Ontarians are left to presume that this will be the status quo. Cross-appointing Associate Chairs from other tribunals to lead this key tribunal is less than a band-aid fix. Absenting a leader from their own tribunal to sit on an interim basis at a second tribunal denies both institutions the focused, dedicated management that each tribunal deserves; to say nothing about the legislated requirement of subject-matter expertise.

Now the Licence Appeal Tribunal is also missing a person at its head, following the appointment of Sara Mintz as a judge in April 2024. So far, the position has not been advertised and there has been no public announcement about how or when the position may be filled. The License Appeals Tribunal includes the Automobile Accident Benefits Service (AABS) which deals with disputes between people injured in motor vehicle accident and insurance companies. According to the most recent data provided by Tribunals Ontario, the AABS has an active caseload of 12,000 cases The Adjudicative Tribunals Accountability, Governance and Appointments Act, 2009 spells out the prerequisites for the selection of adjudication professionals, including the Chairs or Associate Chairs of Ontario tribunals. These include a competitive, merit-based selection process. The required qualifications include subject matter and dispute resolution expertise.

Ensuring that the people appointed as Associate Chairs are fully qualified is particularly important for tribunals like the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and the License Appeals Tribunal that are struggling with very large workloads.

As a matter or responsible governance, Interim or Acting Chairs should not be allowed to babysit second tribunals longer than three months pending the advertisement of vacancies and a proper, legitimate recruitment process.

Tribunal Watch Ontario calls on the government and Tribunals Ontario to immediately commit to a full and transparent recruitment and appointment process to fill these very important positions.

The long term solution to the problem of appointments to adjudicative tribunals is an independent, arm’s length Adjudicative Tribunal Justice Council which would assist the government in fulfilling its statutory mandates to populate adjudicative positions: The Adjudicative Tribunal Justice Council – a Proposal for 2024.

Since the Legislature is recessed until Thanksgiving, short of establishing such a Council the government should strike a recruitment committee with representatives from outside government (e.g. the Ontario Bar Association, a judge, a former tribunal Chair) to assist in the selection of candidates to sit as Associate Chairs.

These tribunals deserve solid, full-time, expert leaders. And they need them now.