Drivers moving between Ontario and the Republic of Ireland (Northern Ireland already has this agreement in place) can now exchange driver’s licences without having to take a written or road test, making it easier for new residents to get to work, school or appointments. People moving to Ontario from the Republic of Ireland can now exchange a valid driver’s licence for an Ontario driver’s licence as long as they meet vision and medical standards. Drivers who hold a valid Ireland class B licence will be allowed to exchange it for an Ontario class G licence if they have two or more years of driving experience in the last three (3) years.
Drivers moving between Ontario and the Republic of Ireland can now exchange driver’s licences without having to take a written or road test, making it easier for new residents to get to work, school or appointments.
People moving to Ontario from the Republic of Ireland can exchange a valid driver’s licence for an Ontario driver’s licence as long as they meet vision and medical standards.
Drivers who hold a valid Ireland class B licence will be allowed to exchange it for an Ontario class G licence if they have two or more years of driving experience in the last three years.
Partnerships such as these reduce unnecessary testing and help make the transition easier for new residents, while keeping our roads safe for everyone.
Ontario has reciprocal driver’s licence exchange agreements with Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, the Isle of Man, Japan, Northern Ireland, South Korea, Switzerland, most American states and all Canadian jurisdictions.
Reciprocal driver’s licence agreements are signed only after a stringent review has determined that the jurisdiction provides drivers with the necessary skills and abilities to safely operate a vehicle on our roads.
New Ontario residents can use a valid licence from another jurisdiction for 60 days. After 60 days, they need to get an Ontario driver’s licence.
New Ontario residents can use a valid licence from another jurisdiction for 60 days. After 60 days, they need to get an Ontario driver’s licence.
Ontario is introducing legislation that, if passed, would help keep the province’s roads among the safest in North America by reducing collisions, injuries and fatalities.
If passed, the proposed legislation and supporting amendments to the Highway Traffic Act will make highways and roads safer by:
Increasing fines for distracted driving from its current range of $60 to $500 to a range of $300 to $1,000; assigning three demerit points upon conviction; and adding distracted driving to the existing list of novice driver conditions.
Applying current alcohol impaired sanctions to drivers who are drug impaired.
Introducing additional measures to address repeat offenders of alcohol impaired driving.
Requiring drivers to wait until a pedestrian has completely crossed the road before proceeding at school crossings and pedestrian crossovers.
Increasing fines and demerits for drivers who door cyclists, and requiring all drivers to maintain a distance of one metre when passing cyclists, where practicable.
Helping municipalities collect unpaid fines by expanding licence plate denial for drivers who do not pay Provincial Offences Act fines.
The short title of this Act is the Transportation Statute Law Amendment Act (Making Ontario’s Roads Safer), 2014.
The Bill amends the Highway 407 East Act, 2012 as follows: to remove the requirement that the Registrar of Motor Vehicles give a person who has failed to pay a toll and related fees and interest a second notice that, at the next opportunity, a vehicle permit won’t be validated or issued to the person; to remove the requirement that the Minister of Transportation conduct an annual review, including public consultation, on the amount of the toll for the following year.
The Bill also amends the Highway Traffic Act in respect of various matters, as described below, and makes a consequential amendment to the Provincial Offences Act.
Impaired Driving — Alcohol
Amendments to section 41 of the Act provide that the suspension of a driver’s licence on conviction for various Criminal Code and other offences may be shortened or continued if the person participates or fails to participate in a conduct review program.
Subsection 41 (4.1), which provides for early reinstatement of a suspended driver’s licence if the driver participates in an ignition interlock program, and sections 41.1, 41.2 and 41.3 of the Act, which provide for assessments and remedial programs, including ignition interlock programs, are repealed. The current section 57 of the Act, which allows for the establishment of conduct review programs by regulation, is expanded to take their place. Consequential amendments are made to other sections to refer to the programs under section 57, instead of those under sections 41.1 and 41.2.
Current section 55.1 of the Act provides for the long-term impoundment (45 days, 90 days or 180 days) of a motor vehicle if the driver’s licence is suspended for various convictions under the Criminal Code. Section 55.1 is amended to provide for the same impoundment in the following additional circumstances: if the driver contravenes an ignition interlock condition imposed on his or her licence under a conduct review program for a prescribed reason; if the driver’s licence is suspended under a conduct review program for a prescribed reason.
Sections 48.1 and 48.2.1 of the Act are amended to require police officers to notify the Registrar of Motor Vehicles of any 24-hour administrative driver’s licence suspensions imposed on novice drivers and young drivers under those sections.
Sections 48, 48.1, 48.2.1 and 48.3 are amended to provide that for persons who hold out-of-province driver’s licences and who are found to be driving while impaired by alcohol, the privilege to drive in Ontario is suspended automatically, in the same way that the Ontario driver’s licences are suspended automatically under these sections, and not by the Registrar of Motor Vehicles. These sections are also amended so that the duties of a police officer are the same in each case; they now require the officer to notify the Registrar of the surrender of a person’s driver’s licence, as may be required by the Registrar, rather than as prescribed in the regulations, and to forward any other material or information to the Registrar as may be prescribed by the regulations.
Impaired Driving — Drugs or Drugs and Alcohol
Current sections 48 and 48.3 of the Act provide for administrative driver’s licence suspensions where a person is found to be driving a motor vehicle or operating a vessel with a blood alcohol concentration of over 50 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood or over 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, or where a person fails or refuses to provide a sample, perform physical co-ordination tests or submit to an evaluation under section 254 of the Criminal Code. Under section 48 (the over .05 section), the licence is suspended for three days for a first suspension, seven days for a second suspension and 30 days for a third or subsequent suspension. Under section 48.3 (the over .08 and failure to complete tests section), the licence is suspended for 90 days.
Two new sections, sections 48.0.1 and 48.3.1, are added to the Act to mirror sections 48 and 48.3 where a person is driving a motor vehicle or operating a vessel while impaired by a drug or by a combination of a drug and alcohol. Under section 48.0.1, a person’s driver’s licence may be suspended for three, seven or 30 days where the person has performed physical co-ordination tests under the Criminal Code and performed or submitted to tests or examinations, if any, prescribed under the Highway Traffic Act and a police officer reasonably believes that the person’s ability to drive a motor vehicle or operate a vessel is impaired. Under section 48.3.1, a person’s driver’s licence may be suspended for 90 days where the person has submitted to an evaluation under the Criminal Code and performed or submitted to tests or examinations, if any, prescribed under the Highway Traffic Act and a police officer reasonably believes that the person’s ability to drive a motor vehicle or operate a vessel is impaired.
If, after a licence suspension is imposed under section 48.0.1, an evaluating officer (defined in the Criminal Code) conducts an evaluation of the person under section 254 of the Criminal Code, the suspension that was imposed under section 48.0.1 is continued or cancelled based on the evaluating officer’s determination as to whether the person is or was, when he or she was stopped by police, impaired by drugs or by a combination of drugs and alcohol.
Section 50.1 of the Act is amended to give persons whose licence is suspended for 90 days under new section 48.3.1 the same right of appeal to the Licence Appeal Tribunal that is currently provided for persons whose licence is suspended for 90 days under section 48.3: in both cases, the Tribunal may set aside the suspension for mistaken identity or medical reasons.
Section 62 of the Act is amended to permit bicycles to carry a flashing red lamp on their rear; this may be in addition to or instead of the red light or reflector on their rear that is currently required. Subsection 62 (18) of the Act, which imposes a $20 fine for contravening the requirements for lights and reflectors on bicycles, is repealed.
Section 144 of the Act is amended to allow for traffic control signals that are specific to bicyclists. In locations where there are both bicycle traffic control signals and regular traffic control signals, bicyclists will be required to obey the bicycle traffic control signals.
Subsection 144 (29) of the Act is amended to remove the prohibition against riding or operating a bicycle along a crosswalk.
Section 148 of the Act is amended to require the driver of a motor vehicle overtaking a bicycle to maintain a distance of at least one metre, as nearly as practicable, between the vehicle and bicycle.
Current section 153 of the Act provides that vehicles and street cars must be driven only in one direction on one-way streets. This is amended to allow for the designation of a bicycle lane on one-way streets that goes in the opposite direction. A consequential amendment is made to subsection 147 (2) of the Act.
Section 156 of the Act is amended to permit bicycles to be ridden or operated on the paved shoulder of a highway that is divided into two separate roadways.
Inconsistent terminology is currently used throughout the Act to describe bicycling: riding, riding on and operating are used in reference to bicycles (including power-assisted bicycles), and driving, in reference to a vehicle, also includes bicycling. A number of provisions are amended so that they consistently use “ride or operate” in reference to a bicycle or, where the bicycle in the provision does not include a power-assisted bicycle, “ride”. The usage of “drive” in reference to vehicles, which includes bicycles, is unchanged.
Sections 140 and 176 of the Act are amended to require drivers to remain stopped at a pedestrian crossover or school crossing until the person crossing the street and the school crossing guard are off the roadway. The current Act allows drivers to proceed once the person crossing and the school crossing guard are no longer on the driver’s half of the roadway.
Other amendments to section 140 of the Act consolidate the duties of drivers and pedestrians at pedestrian crossovers: drivers must stop before entering the crossover and not overtake another vehicle already stopped at the crossover; pedestrians (which includes persons in wheelchairs) must not enter a crossover and into the path of a vehicle or street car that is so close that the driver cannot stop.
In new subsection 140 (8), the Minister of Transportation is authorized to make regulations respecting pedestrian crossovers, including prescribing signs and markings.
The definition of “pedestrian crossover” in subsection 1 (1) of the Act is amended to remove the requirement that it be designated by a municipal by-law.
Sections 203 and 204 of the Act currently require doctors and optometrists to report to the Registrar of Motor Vehicles the name, address and clinical condition of every person 16 years old or older who, in the opinion of the doctor or optometrist, suffers from a condition that may make it dangerous for the person to drive.
Sections 203 and 204 are re-enacted. Rather than imposing obligations on doctors and optometrists, the re-enacted provisions apply to persons to be prescribed by regulation. The prescribed persons will be required to make a mandatory report if a person has or appears to have a prescribed medical condition, functional impairment or visual impairment. In addition, a prescribed person may make a discretionary report if a person has a medical condition, functional impairment or visual impairment that the prescribed person believes may make it dangerous for the person to drive.
Vehicle Inspection Centre System
Current sections 88 to 100 of the Act, which deal with motor vehicle inspection stations and related matters, are repealed. They are replaced with sections 100.2 to 100.8, which create a new vehicle inspection centre system. Section 100.1 allows the Minister of Transportation to make transition regulations to facilitate the implementation of the vehicle inspection centre system.
Under new section 100.2, the Minister may establish a program for the inspection of vehicles and the issuance of certificates and stickers and other types of proof of inspection and may appoint a Director of Vehicle Inspection Standards to administer the program. The Minister may enter into agreements with service providers to assist in operating the program. The Minister may also enter into agreements to authorize persons to operate vehicle inspection centres and to authorize service providers to enter into such agreements.
The Director of Vehicle Inspection Standards is given broad authority to issue directives governing certificates, inspection procedures and requirements and equipment and performance standards under section 100.7. It is a deemed term and condition of every agreement to operate a vehicle inspection centre to comply with all applicable directives.
Current subsections7 (10) to (12) of the Act address the refusal to validate or issue a permit where payment of a fine imposed on conviction of certain specified offences is in default. These subsections are re-enacted to provide that a refusal to validate a permit only applies in respect of one permit held by the convicted person at any given time. New subsection 7 (12.0.1) of the Act provides that if a person is in default of payment of a fine imposed for an offence described in subsection 46 (1) of the Act, no permit held by that person shall be validated and no permit shall be issued to that person until the fine is paid. New clause 7 (24) (n.1) of the Act authorizes regulations to be made that provide for exemptions from the application of subsection 7 (12.0.1). A consequential amendment is made to the Provincial Offences Act.
The penalties for contravening sections 78 and 78.1 of the Act, which prohibit display screens and hand-held devices, respectively, are increased to a fine of between $300 and $1,000.
Current section 85 of the Act requires that vehicles display a device affixed to them as evidence that the vehicle complies with inspection requirements and performance standards. Section 85 is amended to require vehicles to display an annual inspection sticker and a semi-annual inspection sticker (if it is prescribed), or other prescribed proof of inspection instead.
Section 165 of the Act prohibits unsafe practices respecting opening the door of a motor vehicle. Currently, the general penalty in section 214 of the Act, which imposes a fine of between $60 and $500, applies to contraventions of this section. The section is amended to provide that the penalty on conviction is a fine between $300 and $1,000.
Currently, subsection 109 (7.1) of the Act allows certain prescribed combinations of vehicles to have a maximum length of 25 metres. This is amended to allow a maximum length of 27.5 metres.
Current subsection 151 (5) of the Act prohibits driving on the paved shoulder of any part of the King’s Highway except in accordance with section 151 and a regulation made under it. This is amended to apply only to parts of the King’s Highway that are designated.
Clause 154 (1) (a) of the Act is re-enacted to provide that a vehicle not be driven from one lane to another lane or to the shoulder, or from the shoulder to a lane, unless the driver first ascertains that it can be done safely.
Current section 159 of the Act requires drivers to slow down and move into another lane when approaching a stopped emergency vehicle with its red or red and blue lights flashing. Section 159 is amended to require drivers to do the same for a tow truck stopped with its amber lights flashing.
Sections 160 and 178 of the Act, which prohibit persons from attaching themselves to and being towed by a vehicle or street car on a highway while riding or operating various devices (bicycles, toboggans, roller skates, etc.), are amended to include skateboards, in-line skates and any other type of conveyance.
Section 175 of the Act is amended to provide, in new subsection (3.1), that a bus that is painted chrome yellow must also have all the other markings of a school bus.
The amendments to clauses 175 (15) (i) and 205.25 (f) of the Act authorize the service of offence notices outside Ontario on vehicle owners for failing to stop for a school bus and in proceedings based on evidence obtained from a red light camera system.
Current section 191.8 of the Act authorizes municipalities to permit and regulate the operation of off-road vehicles with three or more wheels and low pressure bearing tires. The section is amended to remove the requirement that the vehicles have low pressure bearing tires.
Current section 199.1 of the Act deals with vehicles classified as irreparable, rebuilt and salvage. The section is amended as follows: the Registrar is required, rather than merely empowered, to classify a vehicle as irreparable or salvage where the vehicle is classified as the equivalent to irreparable or salvage by a jurisdiction specified in the regulations; the right to make a submission respecting a classification is limited to the person who held the vehicle portion of the permit at the time of the event that led to the vehicle’s classification and who continues to hold it; the Registrar may appoint a reviewer to consider the submissions; and the submissions must be accompanied by a fee required by the reviewer.
New section 210.1 of the Act permits documents obtained from other provinces, territories and states of the United States in respect of vehicle ownership and certified by an Ontario provincial offences officer to be admissible in evidence as proof of vehicle ownership in proceedings relating to the parking, standing or stopping of a vehicle, in proceedings against the owner of a vehicle for failing to stop for a school bus and in proceedings based on evidence obtained from a red light camera system.
Current section 211 of the Act requires that all suspended driver’s licences be returned immediately to the Registrar of Motor Vehicles. This is amended so that a licence need not be returned if it is suspended under a provision specified by regulation. Consequential amendments are made to sections 35 and 212.
Ensuring Ontario’s roads and highways are safe is part of the government’s economic plan for Ontario. The four part plan is building Ontario up by investing in people’s talents and skills, building new public infrastructure like roads and transit, creating a dynamic, supportive environment where business thrives, and building a secure savings plan so everyone can afford to retire.
According to recent statistics, over 45 per cent of drivers killed in Ontario were found to have drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol in their system.
If current collision trends continue, fatalities from distracted driving may exceed those from drinking and driving by 2016.
Pedestrians represent about one in six motor vehicle-related fatalities on Ontario roads — 41 per cent of which occurred at intersections.
The proposed legislation would build on existing measures Ontario has introduced to improve road safety, including making booster seats mandatory, ensuring every person wears a seatbelt, introducing stiffer penalties for street racing, bringing in tougher impaired driving laws, and banning hand-held devices while driving.
The first of the TTC’s articulated buses went into service last December, but there’s a snag with the bike rack on the new bendy buses (100 of which are currently in operation). Bicycles stored on the rack can impair a driver’s vision, a recent ergonomic review (initiated after a complaint) found. The Ministry of Labour ordered the TTC to stop using the racks, and the TTC is working to find an engineering solution to the problem. The TTC also has an issue with accesories interfering with driver vision on the Orion VII style bus, but those racks will still be in use.
Ministry of Labour orders bike racks removed on certain TTC buses
If you’re a cyclist who relies on an articulated TTC bus as part of your commute, you’ll have to get by without the bike rack until the transit agency figures out a solution to a recently discovered safety issue.
Bicycles plunked on the racks of certain buses can impair a driver’s view of the road, and the Ministry of Labour has ordered the racks not be used. The 100 bendy buses that have been ferrying Torontonians around since December were the source of the original complaint, and present the bigger challenge — those racks are “locked out” for now until the TTC can find an engineering solution, said TTC spokesman Brad Ross.
With the Orion VII bus, which makes up the majority of the TTC bus fleet (1600 of 1800 buses), the issue is accessory-based — racks can still be used but drivers may ask cyclists to remove certain items, like baby seats, which can interfere with their view, he explained.
The bendy-bus fleet (153 buses purchased for $143.7 million) made its debut last December and operates on routes like the 7 Bathurst, 36 Finch West and 63 Ossington. For now, streetcar rules apply on those buses — if there’s space, you can bring the bike on board.
Ross said a driver raised the concern through a joint health and safety committee earlier this year. An ergonomic review also looked at the Orion VIIs, and when the results came back, the ministry made its order.
“The big concern we always have when there is a change like that, that the public understand and sympathize with the driver,” says Bob Kinnear, the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union.
Bike racks were introduced on TTC buses in 2005 as a pilot project. During the project the highest observed usage was 20 customers during one day on the 29 Dufferin, a route that drew 43,300 customers a day, the Star reported at the time. Defending the program, then TTC vice-chair Adam Giambrone said that once the bike racks were in place throughout the bus system (as they currently are), users will “quickly begin to multiply.”
Ross did not have current usage statistics available at press time, but anecdotally, Cycle Toronto’s Jared Kolb says the racks are well used, and play a key role in a transit system that generally can’t pick you up at your front door and drop you off at your destination.
“We need to integrate our modes of transportation to really unlock transportation in this city. Bikes and transit, it’s a fantastic combination,” he said. “Having the ability if you break down, if you’re too tired, if you’re trying to connect from one place to another — the bike racks are a major asset that people across the city rely on.”
Bike racks have not been an issue on GO buses, said Metrolinx spokeswoman Anne Marie Aikins. A city of Mississauga spokesperson said the city had not been contacted by the ministry, and in York region, there have been no orders to remove bike racks on any York Region Transit or Viva buses.
Brad Ross said the ministry is not taking any enforcement action while the TTC figures out a solution. For the majority of the fleet, it’s a communication issue.
“We need to come up with a solution, and some language to help explain to customers, what they can or can’t load on to the bike rack by way of accessories, that is still being worked through,” he said.
The TTC also has an issue with accesories interfering with driver vision on the Orion VII style bus (like the one above), but those racks will still be in use.
The proposed Keeping Ontario’s Roads Safe Act and supporting amendments to the Highway Traffic Act would: Increase fines for distracted driving to a range of $300 to $1,000, up from a range of $60 to $500, and assign three demerit points upon conviction. Increase fines for drivers who open their door into the path of a cyclist to a range of $300 to $1,000, up from a range of $60 to $500, and raise the demerit points from two to three. Require all drivers to maintain a distance of one metre when passing cyclists. Several U.S. states have implemented similar rules. Require motorists to yield to pedestrians at school crossings and pedestrian crossovers until they have completely crossed a road or street. Cyclists are not let off scot-free under the proposed legislation. The fine for not using required bicycle lights and other reflectors or reflective material will range from $60-$500, up from the current $20. The change also permits the use of flashing red lights on bicycles.
Ontario targets drug-impaired motorists as it revives legislation to crack down on distracted driving
Drugged drivers will face the same sanctions as drunk drivers under proposed legislation aimed at cracking down on distracted drivers in Ontario.
“This sends a clear message to the people who think, ‘I can get high and drive because I can pass a breathalyzer,’ ” Brian Patterson of the Ontario Safety League said Tuesday.
The bill from Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca is an updated version of one tabled in March but not passed before the spring election. It increases penalties for talking or texting on hand-held smart phones, with maximum fines of $1,000 and three demerit points — the toughest in Canada.
As well, the bill outlaws painting any vehicles the same chrome yellow as school buses and would require drivers to wait until pedestrians have finished traversing the street at designated school and pedestrian crossings.
Drivers who “door” cyclists would see penalties rise from the current range of $60 to $500 to between $300 and $1,000 and three demerit points instead of two. And motorists would have to stay one metre away from cyclists “where practicable.”
But the province lagged on dealing with drug-impaired drivers. Del Duca said more than 45 per cent of drivers killed in Ontario in 2011 were found to have drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol in their system.
“Ontario is one of only three jurisdictions in Canada right now that has no sanctions . . . we thought it was important,” Del Duca told reporters, noting 45 per cent of drivers killed in Ontario in 2011 had drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol in their systems.
Police officers who have reasonable grounds to suspect drug-impaired driving would be able to issue roadside drivers’ licence suspensions of three, seven, 30 and 90 days — just as they do with alcohol-impaired drivers for first and repeat offences.
“That is probably the most immediate example of what those specially trained officers will be able to do,” Del Duca said of Ontario’s 1,300 front-line police trained in recognizing drug-impaired motorists.
Currently, motorists must be taken to the police station for further evaluation if drug-impaired driving is suspected. That would change if the new legislation is passed.
Authorities could also require educational or substance abuse treatments, order ignition interlocks and seven-day vehicle impoundments.
Ontario Provincial Police said there were 78 distracted driving deaths last year compared to 57 for impaired 44 for speeding. The OPP laid 19,000 distracted-driving charges in 2013, up from 16,000 the year before.
Del Duca said his ministry is “working very closely” with the RCMP to implement roadside technology to test for drug impairment that would be a similar tool to a breathalyzer, which measures blood alcohol levels.
“Over the next number of months I am optimistic, I am confident we will have technology to provide us and our police officers with that same sense of scientific backup.”
Australia has been among the forefront of countries using such devices, which work by measuring drug levels in saliva, said Patterson of the Ontario Safety League.
“I think we’re getting to the stage where there will be a huge comfort level with this.”
The targeting of drug-impaired drivers was applauded by opposition parties, in addition to tougher penalties for distracted driving in general.
“Whether it’s distracted driving or impairment by alcohol or drugs, the government has a responsibility to make sure they are taking steps,” said Progressive Conservative MPP Michael Harris (Kitchener-Conestoga).
“It is troubling to know there are people like this on our roads.”
New Democrat MPP Joe Cimino (Sudbury) said drug-impaired driving “has to be looked at. It’s as serious as drunk driving.”
While Ontario’s roads consistently rank among the safest in North America, “there is still much more work the province can do and must do,” Del Duca said in announcing “much stiffer fines.”
The legislation comes as distracted driving outpaces impaired driving and speeding as the leading cause of death on the roads.
Ontario Provincial Police said there were 78 distracted driving deaths last year compared to 57 for impaired 44 for speeding.
The OPP laid 19,000 distracted-driving charges in 2013, up from 16,000 the year before.
Notification is sent out via email about the trial in advance of the hearing, a procedure that is routine in B.C, Nova Scotia and Alberta where the media are informed in advance of Crown or defence motions to exclude the public from the courtroom, seal evidence or impose a publication ban on the identity of an accused, victim or witness that is not mandatory under the Criminal Code. This is not the protcol ever used in any Ontario court.
In a B.C. court on Friday, an application will be heard to determine whether a publication ban should be placed on the identities of undercover officers involved in a robbery investigation.
A notification email about the hearing was sent out on Thursday, a procedure that is routine in B.C, Nova Scotia and Alberta where the media are informed in advance of Crown or defence motions to exclude the public from the courtroom, seal evidence or impose a publication ban on the identity of an accused, victim or witness that is not mandatory under the Criminal Code.
The intent is to ensure that the constitutional rights to freedom of the press and freedom of expression are carefully considered.
But Ontario has no such notification system in place.
It has been two decades since the landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Dagenais case established that the media should be given reasonable notice when a publication ban is applied for, and allowed to make submissions on whether the ban should be granted.
“I would have thought that 20 years on now from Dagenais we shouldn’t still be fighting a battle on the basic requirement of notice. But we are,” says media lawyer Iain MacKinnon.
Some publication bans are imposed automatically, like the one pertaining to the identity of an accused youth. Some must be granted if requested, like publication bans on the identity of a complainant in a sexual assault case or on evidence in a bail hearing.
But many publication bans, prohibiting reporting on the identities of the accused, of witnesses or evidence, are made at the discretion of judges.
“These kinds of discretionary publication bans are a serious intrusion on the freedom of the press and interfere with public right to know what goes on in the courts,” says media lawyer and Ryerson adjunct professor Brian Rogers, who has represented the Star.
“I would say it’s a constitutional requirement that the media has to weigh in,” said lawyer Iris Fischer, who has represented media outlets, including the Star.
Yet the notification process in Ontario is “very much ad hoc,” Fischer said. “Sometimes reporters will be sitting in a courtroom when a publication ban is sought and find out that way. On rare occasions, I have seen Crown counsel send out written notice to major media outlets.”
That doesn’t assist freelancers, bloggers and smaller media outlets, she notes.
It’s impossible to say how often applications for discretionary publication bans are heard and granted without the media being notified, but it is a concern, says media lawyer Ryder Gilliland, who has represented the Star.
“The media, and by extension the public, have an interest any time there is a curtailment of a presumed right of access to open court.”
Ontario Court House. In some cases, judges do order that the media be notified before a hearing on a publication ban occurs. But there are no formal procedures in Ontario laying out how much notice should be given, or which media outlets should be contacted.
In some cases, judges do order that the media be notified before a hearing on a publication ban occurs. But there are no formal procedures in Ontario laying out how much notice should be given, or which media outlets should be contacted.
Media were not notified of a publication ban request by the Crown in a Brampton trial where two parents were convicted last week of manslaughter in the death of their 2-year-old daughter. The broad discretionary publication ban covering the identities of the parents and the little girl was intended to protect a surviving sibling. However, there have been cases in the past where such publication bans have been narrowed to allow the identities of the accused and victim to be published while still protecting the identities of surviving family members.
“It is up to the presiding judge or justice to direct that notice be provided to other persons affected by the order, which may include the media,” said Brendan Crawley, spokesperson for the Ministry for the Attorney General, in an email. “In Ontario, in cases where a judge directs the Crown to provide notice to the media, the Crown, often with the assistance of the Ministry’s Communications Branch, will comply with the court order and contact local or provincial media outlets as required.”
In Nova Scotia, where an online notification procedure has been in place since 2001, according to John Piccolo, director of communications for the Nova Scotia judiciary, notice can range from three months to five days.
An online form filled out by the lawyer requesting the publication ban is distributed to a list of about 100 subscribers, mostly media outlets and media lawyers.
In Alberta, notice to registered media must be provided at least three days in advance, according to the instructions of the chief judge of the provincial courts.
This applies to any lawyers seeking a court order that could restrict “public access to, or the media’s ability to fully report on, court documents or proceedings.”
A 2006 report to the attorney general by a comprehensive Justice and the Media panel lauded the notification systems of the three provinces and recommended that “the Ministry of the Attorney General and the judiciary establish an electronic notification system for discretionary publication bans to provide basic information in a timely manner.”
That has not happened.
Rogers and the Canadian Association of Media Lawyers have raised the issue a number of times over the years.
He says government staff have told him the Ontario system is far more complex and larger than in Nova Scotia, Alberta or B.C.
But Rogers wonders whether, like in B.C. where the notification system only covers Vancouver and New Westminster courts, a pilot project couldn’t be implemented for at least one region.
“It only makes sense,” he says. “The key problem is that publication bans are sometimes looked at as pesky issues that get in the way of getting on with the trial. . . The reality is that the media can’t be there all the time. But if (the courts) worry they could be, they might be a little more serious.”