A. Background to the Modernization of the Provincial Offences Act Project
This Final Report in the LCO’s Modernization of the Provincial Offences Act project provides an analytical framework for modernizing and reforming the Provincial Offences Act (POA). In this project, the Law Commission of Ontario (LCO) has not only examined specific issues raised during our research and consultations, but has also made structural improvements and created a mechanism whereby future procedural improvements can be more easily achieved. In this respect, the Report is divided into three parts: (1) Structural reforms to the POA and its rules and regulations on which we make direct recommendations; (2) specific procedural issues that were brought to our attention and for which we raise the prospect of reform but refer most of these matters to others for further review or specific technical detail; and (3) future law reform initiatives which we consider of importance, but which we could not address in this study. We hope this Report and the POA reform framework that we propose will serve as a valuable tool to respond to evolutionary developments on the provincial offences landscape in the years to come.
When the POA came into force 30 years ago it was hailed as “one of the most sweeping legislative reforms of procedures governing the prosecution of offences since the enactment of the Criminal Code in 1892”. Since that time the provincial offences environment in Canada has changed considerably, yet there have only been modest amendments to the POA. Major developments include the adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter), amendments to the Criminal Code, significantly increased maximum penalties for certain provincial offences the increased use of administrative monetary penalties (AMPS), the emergence of licensed paralegals and increased use of technology.
The impact of the POA on the lives of Ontarians is significant, not merely because of the vast number of offences to which the POA applies or the number of proceedings commenced each year, but because of the nature of the regulatory offences governed by its process. Regulatory law dominates many aspects of our daily living. John Swaigen has described the impact of regulatory law, or public welfare law, on the lives of Canadians as follows:
Public welfare laws pervade the lives of ordinary people. Almost every aspect of our activities is regulated from parking the car to fixing the roof. When people think about “the law” they often think of crimes such as theft, sexual assault and murder. But lawyers are well aware that the laws most likely to affect ordinary people, and to be broken by them, are not criminal laws, but the myriad of public welfare laws that are necessary to regulate and reduce the risk we impose on each other through activities as diverse as driving a car, operating a school, spraying a herbicide or constructing a nuclear power plant. These regulatory laws protect consumers, children in day-care centres, the elderly in nursing homes and hospitals, pedestrians and motorists, workers in factories, and the natural environment that sustains human and other life forms.
Consistent with the LCO’s mandate, this Final Report examines the current framework of the POA and considers its efficacy in achieving the legislative objectives of the statutes that create the provincial offence. Clarity of process and accessibility by the average Ontarian are also key considerations given the significant impact provincial offences can have on individual and corporate defendants. Finally, the sheer volume of provincial offences demands that any procedure governing these matters be both fair and efficient. In a sense, our recommendations seek to return the POA to its roots, as legislation that responds to the needs of those it most affects, with additional enhancements reflecting more contemporary thought in regulatory law.
The original proposal to review and revise the POA was received in December 2007 from Kenneth Jull, a lawyer with much expertise in provincial offences and risk management. A number of organizations and individuals involved in POA matters also supported a review at this time. It is against this backdrop that on April 2, 2009 the LCO’s Board of Governors approved the Modernization of the Provincial Offences Act project.
The LCO engaged in an initial review of literature and informal discussions with many organizations and individuals prior to issuing a Consultation Paper on November 16, 2009 that set out a number of issues initially raised with the LCO. It was sent to over 90 individuals and organizations and invited comments on the issues raised, as well as the identification of further issues that had not already been canvassed. The LCO also met or spoke with many people and organizations including academics, paralegal organizations, members of the bench, Aboriginal organizations, members of the defence bar, civil servants (including prosecutors), court administrators, municipal organizations and other municipal representatives.
The LCO also established an Ad Hoc project Advisory Group whose members are listed on page iii. The group met regularly from December 2009 onwards and meetings or telephone calls with individual members were common. The diverse views they brought forward were extremely valuable to the LCO in its efforts to make recommendations that took into account a broad array of perspectives. The Advisory Group also contributed to the project by facilitating discussions between their connections and the LCO.
This Final Report was prepared on the basis of feedback to the Interim Report which was circulated broadly to the judiciary, lawyers, paralegals, government officials and the public for consultation and comment and on additional research subsequently undertaken. It was approved by the LCO’s Board of Governors on August 11, 2011.
B. A Word on the Scope of the Project
This Final Report does not purport to deal with all of the issues that could possibly be addressed in the modernization and reform of the POA. Entire law reform reports could be drafted on several of the discrete Parts of the Act, and a substantive analysis of each is well beyond the scope of this project. Moreover, a very technical review of many of the current POA sections was recently undertaken in 2009 by the Ministry of the Attorney General’s Provincial Offences Act Streamlining Review. With its Municipal Partners, the Ministry agreed to explore ways to streamline POA proceedings. A Working Group was established to consider proposals to simplify procedures, reduce demand for court resources, enhance fine enforcement and improve service to the public. Input from others on these issues was sought through the distribution of a consultation paper. The Working Group made over 60 specific and detailed recommendations to the Attorney General, and many have already been implemented by the Good Government Act, 2009 which made amendments to the POA and Municipal Act, 2001. Therefore, to avoid a duplication of efforts or the potential for competing recommendations, we were of the view that the LCO project not focus on detailed procedural reforms to the POA.
Instead, the LCO project considered structural improvements, the establishment of an overall framework for an improved provincial offences system, alternative monetary penalties, sentencing and other specific recommendations that were not the subject of the detailed Provincial Offences Act Streamlining Review. Our objective was to establish a new framework for the POA that will bring greater clarity of process to and improved accessibility by the average Ontarian, while promoting a simple, fair and efficient procedure for the adjudication of provincial offences. In Section II.B, we describe a framework for the modernization and reform of the POA (“the POA Reform Framework”) and then in subsequent sections address a handful of specific issues that were brought to the LCO’s attention. A major objective of the POA Reform Framework is to serve as a set of guiding principles to tackle additional reform areas that are not dealt with in this Report. The LCO believes the POA Reform Framework and the issue-specific recommendations significantly contribute to building a roadmap for POA reform that will modernize it today and make it a responsive and functional statutory instrument for the future.
In Part IV of the Report, we identify three issues which were raised with us, but which we have not been able to address in this study: reforming the treatment of young people under the POA; the POA’s application to Aboriginal communities; and the status of First Nations band by-laws in relation to AMPS. We recommend further study of these matters.
C. Key Developments that Support Reform at This Time
In the 30 years since the POA came into force, important changes to the Canadian legal landscape have significantly affected the POA’s operation. These developments strongly support reform of the POA at this time, but one can expect that many will continue to have an ongoing impact on our provincial offences system for years to come. A procedural code that can adapt and respond to these and other developments in the future is a central recommendation of this Report. For this reason, they must be considered not only for their present-day impact, but their potential impact on the administration of provincial offences in the future.
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