Attorney General Doug Downey introduced a bill today to help update a justice system he believes was outdated.
Announced Monday afternoon through the provincial government's YouTube channel, the Smarter and Stronger Justice Act would bring the first modernization to Ontario’s class-action legislation in 21 years and the first changes to Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) in two and a half decades.
After his press conference, Downey said it has been far too long and overdue for Ontario to catch up and get modernized.
“I signed for my apartment lease from my phone,” said Downey, who is also the MPP for Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte. “We should really get moving on being more online for things instead of having to go down to the office of a lawyer or stand in line for things where it is just as good to do it online.”
The bill was presented for its first reading today and, if passed, Downey says it would modernize and improve how legal aid services are delivered, how class actions are handled, how court processes are administered, and also make life easier for Ontarians by allowing identities and legal documents to be verified online.
Downey, formerly an Orillia lawyer, also confirmed that Legal Aid Ontario's 2020-21 funding will be maintained at its current levels.
“In the case of Legal Aid Ontario, we want to give them more power to conduct what they do in a more modern way, but, of course, it will all be viewable if any changes are made,” he said. “That said, any changes Legal Aid makes, we will be consulted and they will be posted where anyone needing that information can see it.”
The proposed legislation includes changes to more than 20 Acts that would make the justice system easier to navigate, Downey noted. Among them are forfeiture laws, which would make it harder for criminals to benefit from the proceeds of crime. Even issues with death certificates, which have been historically difficult to attain, are among the proposed changes.
“If someone is convicted of murder, but there is no body, we need to find a way to make the technical and legal side of things a lot easier to deal with for the families,” Downey said. “The last thing they want to worry about is red tape.”
Downey says one of the Acts would deal with the growing issue of cyberbullying.
“This is a much-needed update for victims," he said. "When someone is convicted for cyberbullying or image sharing, which is very common in sex trafficking, we want to make it easier for the victims to sue them in a civil case.”
The new bill will need several readings before it can made into law, which could be well into the new year.