Taxpayers deserve timely access to justice

By MPP Bobbi Ann Brady

Last week in the Ontario Legislature, I asked Premier Ford to eliminate civil jury trials in relation to motor vehicle accidents. My question was precipitated by the government’s 2020 consultation on eliminating the use of civil juries in Ontario. And the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association (OTLA) also educated me as to how civil jury trials for auto accidents and personal injury claims have created huge backlogs in the justice system and stymie timely compensation to injured victims.

Many stakeholders, both the public and professionals, felt civil jury trials were creating inconsistencies, delays, and unfairness to those involved in motor vehicle accidents and to the average taxpayer. OTLA tells me in over 95 per cent of car accident cases, it’s the insurance company for the at-fault driver requesting a jury.

OTLA put it nicely, they recommend “that the use of civil juries be restricted to only those cases which trigger a public interest and engage community values or a person’s character, such as defamation, medical negligence or institutional sexual abuse cases. Restricting civil juries in Ontario will improve access to justice and reduce red tape all while saving the province and litigants substantial costs and delay.”

Initially the Attorney General’s office felt the same way. In line with their 2020 consultation, in 2022, they drafted legislation to fix the problems, but the legislation never made it to floor of the Legislature. And the consultation results seem to have evaporated.

Also in 2022, a Thunder Bay lawyer was naturally curious and lodged an FOI requesting all of the submissions provided to the Attorney General for and against the elimination of civil juries. After 19 months of waiting, the lawyer has received absolutely nothing and only heard that the FOI has been lost, re-assigned, delayed by extension, and re-assigned again.

As of now, with no action, the backlog of civil cases has grown to levels that are out of control. In some regions, jury trials are delayed until the end of 2025or early 2026. 

Oh, back to my original question as to whether the government would eliminate civil jury trials in relation to motor vehicle accidents–Attorney General Doug Downey fielded the question, and as good as Brad Marchand, deked around it and simply touted the overall positive actions of the Ford government.

Considering the sway developers have held over this government’s decision making, I couldn’t help but wonder who or what was influencing the premier’s and Attorney General’s offices and delaying the needed legislative changes. 

So, in my supplementary question, I asked Minister Downey straight up who is instructing the Attorney General to sit on this important legislation that would clear the backlog and help accident victims. Minister Downey outright rejected that any outside influencers had any part in the disappearance of their drafted legislation to make things right.

Perhaps if the Thunder Bay lawyer ever claps his/her eyes on the FOI material, some light will be shed on the players in the 2020 consultations. We shall see.

All in all, last week, it was a civil question and answer with Minister Downey despite my not receiving a satisfactory answer. Perhaps if they resurrect the legislation to give victims a better legal system, they can apply the same civility to car accident victims in the form of timely settlements and justice.

Bobbi Ann Brady is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk