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Bill 276 would penalize anyone caught recording and sharing videos of Landlord and Tenant Board hearings
People recording online eviction tribunal hearings could be fined up to $25,000 under proposed legislation the Ontario government brought forward on April 15.
The bill comes as the Landlord and Tenant Board processes a backlog of eviction applications via online hearings, a process that has been criticized for creating additional barriers for low-income and immigrant tenants and tenants with disabilities.
Tenant organizers, housing activists and other supporters began joining these virtual hearings, recording them to show how adjudicators were speeding through proceedings, and sharing clips on social media.
But Bill 276, the Supporting Recovery and Competitiveness Act introduced by Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction Prabmeet Singh Sarkaria, would put and end to this practice that has become common among activists.
Buried within the legislation is a proposed new section to the Statutory Powers Procedures Act, which “imposes prohibitions on various activities relating to the recording of proceedings… including taking or attempting to take photographs, audio or video recordings or other records at hearings… as well as disseminating the photographs, recordings and records.”
If the bill passes, tenants, organizers and advocates would be banned from recording eviction hearings and sharing any recordings. Anyone caught breaking the rules could be fined up to $25,000.
In late 2020 as the eviction blitz was ramping up, the People’s Defence Toronto, an organization that has been vocal about eviction proceedings during the pandemic, was served multiple letters from the LTB asking them to remove videos they had posted of tribunal hearings on Twitter.
The letter cited the LTB’s Rules of Procedure, which state that visual and audio recordings of the proceedings are only permitted with permission from the LTB.
Evictions Ontario, an organization that tracks evictions across the province, wrote in a statement that recording proceedings has been part of an effort to expose what it calls the “increasingly secretive eviction process” since the move to online eviction hearings.
“In response, the LTB has ordered evictions against hundreds of tenants, without them being present, in as little as 60 seconds, obstructed tenants from obtaining legal advice from Tenant Duty Counsel lawyers, forced tenants’ children to act as interpreters at their own eviction hearings, and booted dozens of observers from its virtual hearing rooms,” they stated.
NOW previously reported on one of these eviction hearings, in which a Toronto tenant who is a single mother was unable to attend her hearing. After the lawyer representing the landlord noted that the tenant had made “significant payments,” adjudicator Shannon Kiekens gave a standard order for eviction, which would allow the landlord to evict the tenant if she did not pay the full amount she owed in 11 days.
In other clips still available on the Peoples’ Defence Toronto’s social media accounts, an adjudicator ordered an eviction against a 56-year-old tenant who was unable to work due to a fractured back. The board ordered her to pay $11,000 in 11 days and then kicked supporters out the online room and denied any other observers from entering the call, activist said.
In another clip, the adjudicator allows the landlord to negotiate with the child of parents who did not speak English, until organized tenants stepped in to protect the child from agreeing to what advocates called a “coerced repayment plan.”
Despite complaints and video evidence of the difficulty of the online hearing process for many tenants, Tribunals Ontario, which oversees the LTB, announced on March 11 that it would permanently pivot to an online structure for LTB proceedings.
While an eviction moratorium was implemented at the start of the pandemic, followed by a “freeze” on eviction enforcement during both the first and current stay-at-home order, the LTB is currently still allowed to conduct eviction hearings and order evictions.
Tenants advocates have noted that there has never been a real ban on evictions despite multiple calls for one throughout the pandemic. Evictions ordered during the stay-at-home order can be enforced once the order expires.
NOW has reached out to Sarkaria’s office for further comment.