The provincial opposition is floating a motion to scrap an Ontario government plan that would fine people up to $25,000 for recording eviction hearings.
NDP MPP Jill Andrew plans to put forward a motion to withdraw amendments to the the omnibus Supporting Recovery and Competitiveness Act, or Bill 276, which includes an amendment that would set fines for recording and sharing Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) tribunal proceedings, including eviction hearings.
Andrew hosted an emergency meeting on May 13 along with NDP housing critic Jessica Bell to address the proposed legislation.
Her motion, which is gathering support for through a petition, asks that the Ford government to withdraw the proposed amendment around recording tribunal hearings and consider other procedures that would “ensure broadcasts and recordings of such hearings adhere to the core open courts principle as part of an effort to ensure transparency and accountability of the tribunal process.”
The timing of the amendment comes as LTB hearings have shifted to a virtual format during the pandemic. Tenants and activists say the board has accelerated evictions and began recording hearings and sharing the videos on social media to expose what Evictions Ontario calls an “increasingly secretive eviction process.”
“People who record proceedings at the Landlord and Tenant Board are doing it to protect themselves and advocate to keep their own home,” says Bell.
She says the practice of recording proceedings has shown how the LTB has been prioritizing eviction applications made by landlords over other applications, such as maintenance requests or submissions by tenants who are being harassed by their landlord.
“Instead of fixing the issues with the LTB, the government has decided to target people who are raising these issues,” Bell says.
She says the government should instead focus on legislation that would ensure the hiring fair and impartial adjudicators, fixing violations of due process and guaranteeing legal representation for any tenant who doesn’t have access to a lawyer.
“Recordings have exposed real violations of due process where an adjudicator has ruled to evict the tenant because they couldn’t understand English and didn’t know what the adjudicator was saying, or because they didn’t get a notice in the mail saying that they needed to open their email notice, or because the internet connection went out,” she explains.
Natasha Krstajic, the press secretary and parliamentary advisor for the Ministry of the Attorney General, wrote in a statement to NOW that the purpose of the amendment is to put tribunal hearings on “equal footing” with courts.
“Although anyone can attend an open court proceeding, no one can record or publish recordings of proceedings without the approval of the judiciary, whether that proceeding is online or in-person,” the statement reads.
Krstajic added the amendment would extend “protections” available in court proceedings to participants in tribunal hearings.
“The prohibition on recording and publishing recordings of proceedings protects the privacy of participants and witnesses, and allows participants to consent to cooperate with media and others who wish to publicize the hearings,” she said.
The LTB’s Rules of Procedure state that visual and audio recordings are only permitted with permission from the LTB.
Bell says the government’s concern for privacy is a false argument.
“The courts have an open courts principle, which means that court proceedings should be public,” she says. “People get their fair day in court when a court hearing is public, and it means there are eyes watching – there’s the public watching.”
There are a variety of reasons why a person might record proceeding hearings, Bell notes.
“Some are because they might be taking notes for themselves,” she says, adding that she knows of one Toronto resident who records proceedings for candidates who have accessibility issues.
“Why should this person, who’s trying to help another renter keep their home, be criminalized?”
Krstajic stated the proposed legislation would allow journalists to record audio of hearings for the purpose of supplementing note taking in a manner that Tribunals Ontario will authorize.
“To put a blanket ban on recording and sharing proceedings smacks of this government’s desire to suppress people who wish to shine a light on the Landlord and Tenant Board’s problems,” Bell says.
She says that tenants and advocates are continuing to recording hearings at the moment.
Bill 276 received a second reading on April 26 and was referred to the Standing Committee on General Government. If passed, the amendments would come into force and become law.