COVID-19 changed everything. Institutions stuck in the dark ages were pulled into the digital age, sometimes creating a digital divide. The Court system generally has been one of the longest holdouts, rejecting technology and using faxes, in-person filing etc. Tribunals Ontario has now responded to the challenge. Tribunals Ontario is a group of 14 adjudicative tribunals that play an important role in the administration of justice in Ontario. As a major player in Ontario’s justice system, T.O. has been working on an online portal system to handle all functions of the litigation process. The Landlord Tenant Board, likely their busiest and most complex agency will be the first to bring this new portal online.
Starting December 8th, LTB parties will be able to file applications and upload documents on the Tribunals Ontario Portal. They will be able to log in to view and manage their case file. They will also have the opportunity to work with other parties to resolve their dispute, or request help from an LTB mediator, all online. The goal is to have everything related to the file handled through the portal.
A stakeholders’ online Zoom meeting was held earlier today, led by senior T.O. and LTB staff including Tribunals Ontario Executive Director Harry Gousopolous and Director of Operations Mira Gamsa. Together they outlined the plan to those with an interest in the project.
Accessing the LTB will certainly be “digital first“. This was a concern from those attending the Zoom call who represent marginalized tenants who may not have access to, or knowledge of technology. The concern is that they will be left behind. The T.O. response was basically that they can still use regular mail or courier. I’m not belittling the problem or suggesting there is an easy response to the problem. Change is here. Everyone needs to get online.
To summarize the details, Tribunals Ontario is integrating and drastically changing the whole paradigm, the look and feel of tribunal dispute resolution in the province. The change will be phased in over time, four phases I think, with other LTB applications and scheduling becoming available at some point. LTB Orders will finally be viewable online as they are issued.
Every user will have to have login credentials on the system that can be set up the first time logging on. As a security measure, every new file will be assigned a pin and provided to the filer. As a paralegal or end user you would then assign the PIN to your account or something like that, it wasn’t quite clear. The new system will allow all documents to be linked to a file and shared with the other side. The portal provides online dispute resolution opportunities that involve initially only the landlord and tenant, but then can then be formalized by a DRO or Dispute Resolution Officer.
As a paralegal, that’s the part that scares me most; they’re trying to eliminate hearings by making it really, really easy for the landlord and tenant to come to their own settlements. In fact, if I understand it correctly, once an application is filed, it will not go into the scheduling queue for 2 weeks to give the parties an opportunity to settle. The LTB will need a lot of additional Dispute Resolution Officers. Their aspiration that landlords and tenants who can barely speak to each other will create a solution without assistance is a pipe-dream. Dispute Resolution Officers will be an integral part of this process only if invited to the settlement discussions. Adjudicators will not have access to the system because settlement discussion and mediation which are confidential will take place over this new portal.
Eventually the Tribunals Ontario portal will include online scheduling which will be a great feature for practitioners, but that’s not available from day one. Fax will be eliminated completely by the end of 2021. Filing by regular mail, courier and at Service Ontario locations will still exist for those who have a phobia of or lack of access to technology. The new Remote Access Terminal project to allow those without internet access to attend Zoom hearings at a government site will NOT be expanded to include the new digital first filing process.
File size limits have been problematic since Zoom hearings began in summer 2020. They have now been increased so that videos and copious documents can be uploaded as disclosure materials for the virtual hearing. Documents don’t have to be added all at once. The access code each party receives will allow them to log back in at later dates to amend, add to etc.
The roll-out will initially start with the L1, L2, T2 and T6 applications, the same ones currently available for e-filing. In fact, e-filing will be decommissioned on December 7th at 6pm. Other functions such as requesting a hearing recording will also be available through the portal initially. The decades old LTB file number structure (TSL-12345-21) is changing to accommodate this new software. A landlord application will be in the form LTB-L-000001-21 without regional designation.
Creating the landlord’s or tenant’s application will be an integral part of this online process, and of course documents like notices of termination and the certificate of service etc. can be uploaded as well. Wizards will lead the parties to the right door. For instance, if a tenant is filing about maintenance, they will be asked about the problem, the requested remedy, asked to upload pictures etc. They don’t need to know that it’s a T6 application. It seems like at the point where the application is “filed“, people will be streamed into the online dispute resolution queue. The LTB certainly needs a way to reduce the volume of hearings. The backlog on some files is now well over a year. A hearing can take 4 months to be heard once it is scheduled. Even getting the hearing date can take a month.
For those who are requesting fee waivers, Human Rights Code accommodation or French language services, these are all part of the process that should be available on day one.
Speaking of day one, starting December 7th, you will not be able to file an application by email and use the payment portal for the L1, L2, T2 and T6. Also you won’t be able to use email to exchange documents or communicate for new files not be part of the old C-More system. Users will be required to use the portal.
The DRO’s will still be available for day-of-hearing mediation. However, they will split their time between hearing day mediation and working within the portal to help landlords and tenants resolve their issues. Co-ops, for which eviction proceedings are dealt with at the LTB, will not be part of this system on roll-out, but will eventually be added.
You can actually access the Navigate Tribunals Ontario link at the LTB website now at https://navigatetribunalsontario.ca/ltb/, but at this point, you can’t really do anything once you are there.
Where this leads, nobody knows. There are artificial intelligence based systems already in use to help parties independently resolve monetary disputes. An interesting discussion can be found HERE. Of course at the LTB, it’s about more than monetary disputes. It’s about repairs, eviction, lock-outs, harassment etc. Governments are looking high and low to find cost-cutting measures. If these 21st century tools are effective, there will be savings on bricks and mortar, support staff and adjudicative staff which will create considerable savings. Hopefully, this will improve access to more timely justice.