New Bill Enables Statutory Tribunals to Hold Electronic Hearings

Bill 188 Schedule 3 – Hearings in Tribunal Proceedings (Temporary Measures) Act, 2020

On March 25, 2020, in response to the overwhelming impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ontario legislature enacted Bill 188, Economic and Fiscal Update Act, 2020. Bill 188 enacts and amends various statutes in an attempt by the government to assist individuals and institutions who have been forced to adapt to an increasingly changing and uncertain reality. Of particular relevance to the province’s health and regulatory colleges and the professionals they govern, Schedule 3 of Bill 188 enacts the Hearings in Tribunal Proceedings (Temporary Measures) Act, 2020 (the “Act”).

The Act empowers specified tribunals to determine how hearings before them may be held. Specifically, section 3(1) of the Act states:

“a tribunal may conduct a hearing in person, electronically, in writing or by a combination of any of them, as the tribunal considers appropriate.”

The purpose of this statute is clear; at a time when individuals around the world have been instructed to socially distance in an attempt to mitigate the effects of a global pandemic, the Act will afford tribunals the option to conduct hearings electronically. In the health care context, the upshot of this is that all hearings before the various Colleges and other bodies dealing with health regulatory matters can now be conducted electronically in the event the tribunal had not previously implemented such a process.

The Act amends the Statutory Powers Procedure Act (“SPPA”) and broadly applies with respect to all hearings and appearances before statutory tribunals across the province, including those to which the SPPA’s application is explicitly excluded under another Act. Further, the Act will prevail in the event that it conflicts with any other acts, rules, or regulations.

The Act also affords tribunals the ability to make any orders or give any directions that it considers appropriate with respect to the format and conduct of a hearing, as well as any rules that relate to hearings before the tribunal.

Notably, the Act applies with respect to proceedings commenced before, on or after the day the Act came into force. Therefore, even existing proceedings that were commenced prior to this Act can now be conducted electronically.

Although the ultimate effectiveness of electronic hearings in particular matters remains to be seen, the Act is intended to allow administrative and regulatory proceedings to carry on in a manner that does not jeopardize public safety, all while much of the rest of society grinds to a halt.

It is important to note that the Act is to be repealed on proclamation of the Lieutenant Governor. It will be interesting to see whether the Act is repealed once this pandemic is behind us, or whether electronic hearings will become a permanent fixture of the province’s tribunals as economic and social interaction increasingly shifts online and the legal and health care sectors embrace emerging technology.

As the news regarding COVID-19 continues to change rapidly, we encourage you to check with your respective College for guidance and any updates. Please contact us if you have any questions about how the regulation of your profession is impacted during this pandemic or at any time.

The full statute can be found here.

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