it was just another day at the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal -- the Tories' eviction machine. Rexdale Community Legal Clinic lawyer Karen Andrews was representing a tenant who was facing the daunting prospect of being kicked out of a public housing unit. The Toronto Housing Corporation (THC) wanted the family out because the tenant's child had been charged with committing an illegal act. But in the course of the proceedings, Andrews made a stunning discovery: the tribunal was riding roughshod over the touchy matter of identifying young offenders. Now she's holding up the case to take the matter to the Ontario Court of Appeals.
For decades now, landlords in Ontario have had the legal means to evict families if they believe a person in the unit has committed an offence -- from shoplifting or smoking a joint to more serious criminal offences.
Landlords have been able to bring an eviction case on these grounds even if there isn't a formal charge against the person, let alone a court conviction. And public housing agencies like the THC have the same zero-tolerance policy. But now a more troubling aspect has emerged.
In the process of bringing the eviction application, the landlord and the tribunal disregarded the Young Offenders Act (YOA) and actually identified the alleged offender, Andrews charges. Although the young person isn't named in the landlord's application (which is normally available to the public), the family name, address and a description of the charge were included -- in other words, enough info to connect the dots.
"The tribunal thinks that they can just talk about this," says Andrews. "It's supposed to be tightly controlled information."
She was also troubled by the fact that the victim of the alleged offence, another young person, also appeared at the public tribunal hearing to testify. Under the YOA, the identities of young victims are also supposed to be protected.
To slow the process, Andrews argued that since the landlord hadn't sought approval from a youth court judge to allow disclosure of the persons' identities, the matter shouldn't have proceeded. But the tribunal didn't agree and set a hearing date.
It wasn't until shortly after Andrews applied for a judicial order in divisional court that the tribunal finally sealed its file and adjourned the case until the youth court charges had been dealt with.
Last January, the divisional court dismissed Andrews's application on the grounds that, since the tribunal had sealed the file and adjourned the case, it was all hypothetical. But she has since taken her case to the Ontario Court of Appeal, hoping a precedent will be set. As well, the young person has since been acquitted of the charges.
Says Andrews, "I'm hoping the Court of Appeal will say that when landlords want to raise the issue of criminal acts and young people, "Tell it to a youth court judge.''
Toronto tenant lawyer Ian Hennessey is also defending a parent who's being kicked out of a unit because of charges against a child. He maintains that the agenda of the Harris government has basically given the tribunal tacit permission to visit the sins of the children on parents.
"There is nothing that says the (landlord) can't evict the parent," Hennessey notes. "But do they have the right to do it by just going to the tribunal and slapping down an application (identifying the parties)?"
The Toronto Housing Corporation argues that they shouldn't have to trot off to a youth court judge. The public landlord also disputes the assertion that they identified the alleged young offender in the first place.
"The alleged young offender wasn't identified, and secondly, everybody agreed that the application before the tribunal would not proceed until the criminal proceedings had been completed," says Bill Fader, the lawyer acting for the THC in the appeal. "In all those circumstances, the divisional court said the whole thing is hypothetical."
Osgoode Hall law professor Allan Young points out that all provincial tribunals have to abide by the federal YOA. "Clearly, something has happened here whereby the landlords have been made aware of the identity of this person," says Young.
While Andrews's eviction case has been adjourned pending the Court of Appeal decision, the tribunal is proceeding on a case-by-case basis.
"All I can say right now is that it's in the hands of the courts," says Karen Kiley, the tribunal's manager of program development. She adds, however, that the tribunal will now seal cases if requested.
Last week, city council's community services committee recommended that our public housing managers should do more to avoid putting families on the street.