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Privatizing Court Services is Concerning

May 16, 2016 Social Justice

This story originally appeared in the May edition of North End Breezes. – The Community Newsletter of Hamilton’s North End http://northendbreezes.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/May-2016-NEB-publisher-smaller-file-FINAL.-pdf.pdf

 

The province is thinking of privatizing the civil enforcement service (CEO).

The Attorney General office completed a consultation in March.

It is part of an initiative to modernize and streamline court services. The idea is to improve access to justice and increase efficiency “through innovative, low-cost and sustainable changes.”

“Faster, more efficient, different service options” – these all sound like good ideas. But let’s consider who will be impacted.

Our input in the consultation focussed on those facing potential eviction. Their right to access justice or natural justice principles may be jeopardized by the proposed changes.

Eviction is a complex process as spelled out under the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA).

The RTA has built into it opportunities for tenants to preserve their tenancies. That is intentional. The legal right to request a review, a set aside or a tenant’s motion to void would become meaningless if the eviction process is sped up. It is already quite effective. In Hamilton, for example there is about a ten day turnaround from when the order is filed with the CEO to when the locks are changed by the Sheriff.

Further complicating matters for tenants is a recent change in Hamilton. The notices to vacate used to be posted on a tenant’s door. Now they are mailed. Tenants may never receive these notices. Then they will be shocked that they have to leave their home without any time to appeal the decision or find new accommodations.

We can’t imagine how justice will be served with an even shorter timeframe. It is very difficult to put a tenant back into possession once an eviction is enforced by the Sheriff, though the Landlord Tenant Board does have this authority.

There are other important public policy questions that should be taken into account. Specifically, who should enforce these orders? How should they be enforced? Who should the public see as the enforcement arm of the law?

The Advocacy Centre for Tenants of Ontario (ACTO) pointed out in their submission to the Attorney General that the sheriff has no personal stake, no conflict of interest in the work that is done. That’s important.

Sometimes Clinics see landlords who misdirect or even misrepresent the current or changed state of the legal proceeding to the sheriff. Sometimes tenants do this, as well.

“The public should have confidence that the sheriff will make the proper enquiries to get these sometimes difficult questions right, as opposed to relying on the integrity of the party that pays their fees,” notes ACTO.

Hopefully, the Attorney General will take concerns like these into account.

 

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