The Toronto Star Newspapers Limited has won a legal victory in its bid to gain more transparency in Ontario tribunals, including the Landlord and Tenant Board.
The court ruling resolves a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of tribunals that withhold records from the press and the public based on privacy concerns. Provincial courts generally are more open, so that members of the press or public can attend proceedings or access records. Many quasi-judicial tribunals, however, currently restrict access to documents and in many cases require a formal freedom of information filing that can take months to process.
Through its extensive investigative reporting, the newspaper has been instrumental in exposing professional tenants who victimize one landlord after another, including a tenant who ultimately was charged with fraud for lying on a rental application. Landlords currently do not have access to eviction filings, even in egregious cases where the same tenant has been evicted numerous times.
Ontario Superior Court ruled that the current presumption against disclosure of information in tribunals creates a “real and substantial” harm to the public. The court held that the burden should be on the government to prove the need for withholding information rather than on the press or public to justify the need to access the information. The judge states that “emphasizing privacy over openness not only has a negative impact on the press but also affects other stakeholders.” Specifically, the judge found that a lack of transparency makes it impossible for landlords to run reference checks on tenants, and for regulators to track habitual offenders.
The court was not swayed by the government’s argument that revealing personal information about parties involved in tribunal proceeding would deter those in need of justice from pursuing dispute resolution. The court instead suggested that for every person concerned about negative publicity, there may be another “equally concerned about public vindication and community support.” The court also pointed out that there is no evidence to suggest that these individuals would stop using tribunals because of privacy concerns.
Due to the complex nature of the law, the court has provided a one-year “grace” period for the tribunals to review and adjust privacy policies to comply with the findings.
The Toronto Star reports that the government will not appeal the court’s decision.
This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.