Openness, not secrecy should rule the day in Ontario’s tribunals

Posted on May 2, 2018 in Governance Delivery System – Opinion/Editorials – Tribunals were created to relieve overburdened courts, not to drop a veil of secrecy over matters of public interest.
May 1, 2018.   By

Ontario’s network of provincial tribunals rule on matters as important as human rights, workplace safety and police conduct, and they have been operating well outside the spirit and practice of an open court system for far too long.

On Friday, Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Morgan gave the province a year to change that.

He declared “invalid” the provisions of Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act used to delay or block public access to tribunal records.

The ruling came out of the Toronto’s Star’s legal challenge seeking easier and more complete access to records and documents related to public hearings.

Tribunals were born of the court system and designed to hive off specialized matters and relieve overburdened courts. They were not created to drop a veil of secrecy over important matters of public interest. But that, unfortunately, is what’s been happening far too often in Ontario.

Journalists and members of the public who want access to documents presented in public tribunals are forced to file freedom of information requests with justification for why the records should be released.

That, as the court said, is “the wrong way around.”

A few tribunals, including the Ontario Securities Commission and the Ontario Municipal Board (newly reconstituted as the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal), already operate openly. They post docket lists and decisions on their websites, allow public access to hearing records and post many documents online for easy access.

That’s good. Not only do they prove it can be done, they provide the province with a useful template to bring the rest in line with the principle and practice of openness.

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