The Law Commission of Ontario (LCO)’s Interim Report on the modernization of the Provincial Offences Act includes draft recommendations on which the LCO invites public comment.

The Provincial Offences Act (POA) was enacted more than 30 years ago. It creates the procedure that governs the prosecution of offences under Ontario statutes, regulations and municipal by-laws. Hundreds of regulatory statutes create offences that are prosecuted under the POA, such as parking, traffic, liquor, employment standards, occupational health and safety and environmental offences, to name a few. The approximately 2.1 million charges brought annually under these statutes (excluding parking offences) are heard by the Ontario Court of Justice.

A comprehensive review of the POA has not been undertaken to assess whether it continues to meet its original objectives and whether those objectives remain current today. Nor has there been a consideration of the impact of significant developments that have occurred since the POA came into force, such as the enactment of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, significantly increased penalties for some offences and the transfer of prosecution and courts administration of POA matters from the Province to municipalities.

The LCO Board of Governors approved this Project on April 2, 2009. The Interim Report examines some specific procedural issues, but to a greater extent, it recommends structural improvements to modernize the POA and a mechanism whereby procedural improvements can be more easily achieved in the future.

The Interim Report identifies concerns with the POA, including a high degree of complexity for the large majority of minor offences prosecuted under the Act.  The POA also makes little distinction among the vastly different types of offences brought before the court and offers little direction on how sentences are to be rendered in a principled manner. If the procedure under the POA is to be accessible, fair and efficient, it must have simple and easily understood procedures that are proportionate to the interests at stake. 

To respond to these concerns, the LCO’s key draft recommendations include:

  • Moving all parking offences out of the court process to reserve judicial resources for more serious matters. Municipalities would instead collect monetary penalties for parking infractions that could be disputed before a municipal hearings officer.
  • Simplifying the Provincial Offences Act and creating processes proportionate to the seriousness of the offence.
  • Providing clear sentencing principles to help the court render appropriate and consistent sentences that will promote compliance with regulatory standards.
  • Making simple, plain language information guides available.

In developing these draft recommendations, the LCO consulted broadly through issuing a consultation paper and individual consultation meetings, and benefited from the advice of an Advisory Group whose members have expertise in provincial regulatory matters.

The LCO wishes to hear from anyone with an interest in the POA or the draft recommendations in the Interim Report. Please provide comments by April 29, 2011 by mail, fax or e-mail to:

Law Commission of Ontario
276 York Lanes, York University
4700 Keele Street
Toronto, ON, Canada, M3J 1P3

Tel:  (416) 650-8406
Toll free: 1 (866) 950-8406
TTY: 1 (877) 650-8082
Fax:  (416) 650-8418         

After considering any comments received, the LCO will release a Final Report in the Fall of 2011, subject to the approval of the LCO Board of Governors.