Civil A2J is in ‘danger,’ OBA president warns, inviting solutions through brainstorming sessions

By Amanda Jerome

Law360 Canada (June 26, 2023, 2:53 PM EDT) -- The Ontario Bar Association (OBA) is tackling the backlog in the civil court system by hosting an interactive brainstorming session followed by an expert review, which the organization’s president hopes will lead to “immediate solutions.”

The first event in Bail the Boat: Addressing Ontario’s Overflowing Civil Court System, was held on June 19, with lawyers gathering into breakout sessions to come up with innovative ideas to address the problem.

OBA president, Kelly McDermott, told Law360 Canada that some of the ideas that came forward were “quite amazing.”

She noted a policy expert joined the first session to provide “real time feedback on the ideas we generated.”

Kelly McDermott, OBA president

Kelly McDermott, OBA president

“We had gone in with a few ideas already established, including things like: civil dispute resolution officers, provincewide virtual courts, using digital platforms for scheduling, expanding mandatory mediation,” she explained, noting that during the discussions “many more ideas came across, including: a 1990s style blitz to get through the backlog using judges, associate judges, senior legal counsel and retired judges on a per diem; one region virtual court, so parties can be there before an adjudicator from any region, not just the region in which the action is brought; expanding court hours to include evenings and weekends where the parties agree.”

“There was some really robust discussions and really good ideas, and that sort of generated the first half of the session, and the second half of this session was the policy experts who came in and, and really fleshed out the feasibility of some of those ideas,” she added.

McDermott stressed that the backlog in the civil courts is an “all-hands-on-deck issue right now.”

She noted that Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz, at the opening of the courts’ ceremony in 2022, had “indicated that the current situation can’t continue.”

“The OBA is always there to step up to bring lawyers together and provides a place for action,” she said, emphasizing that “we need immediate solutions to the backlog in our civil courts that accrued during the pandemic.”

The OBA has “already established a special taskforce to work on meaningful long-term civil justice reform, but before we even get there, we need to clear the backlog, and that’s been the focus of the work we’ve been doing,” she explained.

According to McDermott, “very early on in the pandemic,” the OBA established a “delay portal” through its website, where OBA members and members of the public could provide “real time data on some of the delays of the different courts.”

Through that portal, the OBA recognized that “this was becoming a major issue.”

“Access to justice is obviously one of the important pillars for the OBA. And so, in addition to looking at longer term reform, we are looking for immediate solutions,” she said, noting that Bail the Boat sessions is an example of one of the things the OBA is “trying to do to come up with meaningful, constructive tasks to fix this problem.”

McDermott noted that the “original focus” of Bail the Boat was civil, but a lot of the solutions “can transfer over into the family and criminal sector.”

“While we started with civil, it really wasn’t restricted in that way once we got into the discussions, and so I think the thought is, ‘let’s start here, let’s get some really tangible ideas on the plate, and see what ideas can then transfer over into other contexts,’ ” she added.

The next session will take place on June 28, after which the OBA will review the ideas before presenting them to justice partners to enact reform.

“We’re generating all the ideas,” McDermott said, noting the ideas will be reviewed for feasibility, “and then we’re going to work with our judicial and government connections, the Ministry of Attorney General, and bring these forward in a meaningful way.”

The OBA, McDermott emphasized, is “the voice of the profession,” and is trying to “bring lawyers together and provide a place for action.”

“Through the backlog, we were recognizing that access to justice is now in danger, and so what we’re looking to do is to encourage our members, encourage lawyers across Ontario, to participate in these sessions because the more ideas, the more information we have the better results that we’re going to derive and better ideas we’re going to generate,” she said, hoping that the turnout will continue on June 28, so that the profession can “work together to find some really immediate and targeted solutions.”

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for Law360 Canada, please contact Amanda Jerome at or 416-524-2152.