March 28, 2024

Ron Ellis’s Dream Is Now Draft Legislation for Ontario Tribunals

The Private Member’s Bill introduced by MPP Ted Hsu in the Ontario Legislature today, short-titled the Fewer Backlogs and Less Partisan Tribunals Act, proposes to protect the right of Ontarians to access expert, fair and effective justice at our provincial tribunals by passing legislation that enshrines and activates the fundamental principles of adjudicative independence, integrity and excellence. Many parts of this proposed legislation are based on an earlier draft by the late Ron Ellis, a founding member of Tribunal Watch and a giant in tribunal justice in Canada.

Ron Ellis was a lawyer for fifty-plus years, a tribunal chair, and one of the founders of Tribunal Watch Ontario and the Society of Ontario Adjudicators and Regulators (SOAR).

Ron’s guidance, insight and profound intellect contributed immensely to the status and stature of tribunals across Ontario. He led by example, creating and steering the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal (now the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal) to be the paragon of adjudicative excellence. Ron’s constant and consistent pressure on governments of every stripe to secure the integrity and independence of tribunal justice led to his late-in-life PhD thesis, published as Unjust By Design. That monograph then evolved into a model for adjudicative excellence that is the basis for the legislation introduced today.

Ron worked tirelessly until his passing in December 2023 to ensure that people appearing before adjudicative tribunals in Ontario could expect expert, experienced adjudicators; transparent, fair proceedings; and comprehensible, just outcomes.

Instead, today we have serious problems at Tribunals Ontario, where at the Landlord and Tenant Board, the backlog has grown to over 53,000 applications, and where at the Human Right Tribunal of Ontario, we see hundreds of applications being abandoned and dismissed every year without a hearing. Ontarians deserve better. As noted in the Toronto Star editorial on March 21, 2024, this is “the inevitable result when merit takes a back seat to partisanship in hiring decisions”.

The adjudicative landscape has been grievously eroded since the election of the current government in 2018. This new legislation is an attempt to regain lost ground, an endeavour to reinstate the principles that were initially enunciated in Ontario’s Adjudicative Tribunals Accountability, Governance and Appointments Act, 2009 (ATAGAA). But it strives to do even more.

The introduction of an Adjudicative Tribunal Justice Council, a pillar of Ron’s proposed law that is now in this Bill, would go far to re-invigorate the values that should permeate and define our tribunal justice system. Indeed, such a Council would depoliticize the appointment process for Ontario tribunals and ensure that competence and integrity become integral to the governance and operation of the everyday tribunals that hundreds of thousands of Ontarians access every year.

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