Reforms to Ontario’s Dispute Resolution System Long Overdue

0 March 31, 2014 at 9:34 am by

Full disclosure here.  I worked with Justice Douglas Cunningham on his review of Ontario’s Dispute Resolution System (DRS) and fully support his recommendations.  In the process of coming up with his recommendations, Justice Cunningham listened to a lot of users of the system, ADR experts and other interest parties.  He spent considerable time analyzing what he heard before making his conclusions and recommendations.  Obviously, not everyone is going to agree with all the recommendations.

The current system is definitely broken despite some suggesting to the contrary.  The system is too slow, which adds unnecessary costs and hardship.  The culture within the system contributes to the problems.  Justice Cunningham’s report proposes a culture change starting with pulling the DRS out of FSCO and significantly speeding up the process.  Should all his recommendations be adopted, we will have a much more responsive and efficient system.  In 1990, the government created the DRS specifically to provide accident victims with a cost effective and timely alternative to the courts.  The proposed reforms are intended to return the system to those first principles.

A number of stakeholders have come out against Bill 171 which is unfortunate.  Some have suggested that Justice Cunningham’s report requires more consultation.  I’ve been working in this system a long time and that is just a stall tactic to provide more time to lobby to protect your interests. Trial lawyers are opposed to Justice Cunningham’s recommendation to end accident victims’ ability to choose to go to court or arbitration to resolve a dispute.  However, Justice Cunningham was of the view that a simpler and quicker DRS would provide appropriate access to justice and therefore, the court option would no longer be necessary.

Accident victim groups are understandably disappointed that Justice Cunningham did not address their long-term complaints regarding the independent assessment industry.  They believe that unless independent assessment providers are regulated, all other reforms are pointless.  I disagree.  Many accident victims will benefit from the reforms.  Settlements or the restoration of benefits will occur sooner.  Justice Cunningham indicated that the type of regulatory system proposed by stakeholders was clearly outside the scope of his review.  As such it will have to wait for another day.

The Opposition parties have been critical of Bill 171 but they have shown a willingness to allow the bill to pass at second reading and go to a Standing Committee for review.  I believe beyond the rhetoric the Legislature recognizes changes are needed.


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