Ontario unveils legislation to make it easier for victims to sue offenders for emotional distress

By Karunjit Singh

Law360 Canada (November 30, 2023, 4:32 PM EST) -- Ontario has introduced new legislation aimed at making it easier for victims of crimes to sue offenders for emotional distress and related bodily harm, according to a government release.

If passed, the proposed Enhancing Access to Justice Act, 2023 would, together with supporting regulatory changes update the Victims’ Bill of Rights, 1995. The revision would add victims of crimes such as terrorism, vehicle theft, human trafficking related crimes and hate related crimes targeting places of worship to the categories of victims presumed to have suffered emotional distress, said Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey.

“We’re expanding the categories so that it will include human trafficking and a variety of other categories that will then allow the presumption (of emotional distress) to exist in the civil proceedings. … I think everybody would agree that somebody who’s a victim of human trafficking by definition has gone through a traumatic experience,” he told Law360 Canada.

Attorney General Doug Downey

Attorney General Doug Downey

The Victims’ Bill of Rights currently provides that victims of assault perpetrated by a spouse as well as victims of sexual assault and attempted sexual assault are presumed to have suffered emotional distress.

Ontario saw 1,721 incidents of police-reported hate crimes in 2022, up almost 20 per cent from the previous year. The province has also witnessed a 72 per cent increase in auto theft between 2014 and 2021 and a 14 per cent increase over the past year.

Ontario also had the most police reported incidents of human trafficking of any province in the country in 2019.

Downey noted that the proposed legislation was complementary to the government’s efforts to deal with human trafficking and other such offences.

In 2020, Ontario introduced a five-year anti-human trafficking strategy aimed at raising awareness, protecting victims, intervening early, supporting survivors and holding offenders accountable.

Ontario is also proposing consultation with the federal government to discuss removing limitation periods on civil lawsuits under the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, that are commenced in Ontario.

The proposed legislation is also set to ban the growing of recreational cannabis in homes that offer child-care services. Under federal regulations, it is legal for households to grow up to four cannabis plants per residence for personal recreational use.

“We have instances of the four plants per household occurring in daycare spaces,” Downey said, adding such occurrences were not in the best interest of children and that the proposed legislation would ban the practice of allowing four plants per residence in a child-care setting.

 Additionally, the proposed legislation, if passed, will also update the Courts of Justice Act and other statutes, including, by limiting delays in a child protection trial when a judge is appointed to another court, to ensure that court operations are more readily accessible.

If a judge involved in a hearing for a youth issue is promoted to another level of court or moved for any other reason, they will be allowed to finish that trial under the proposed legislation, Downey said, adding that the issue has come up in some cases. 

“We wanted to make sure that we're not indirectly revictimizing children,” he said. 

Proposed changes to the Courts of Justice Act are also set to make it easier for judges in the Ontario Court of Appeal and the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to better manage vexatious litigants, including those who begin unreasonable court proceedings.

Additionally, the proposed legislation will also amend the Coroner’s Act to allow for faster and more meaningful and relevant recommendations for construction-related death investigations.

“We’re taking steps to bring justice and closure to family members of construction workers who have lost their lives on the job,” said solicitor general Michael Kerzner, according to the release.

The bill is also targeting expanding options for fire safety enforcement by enabling the future development of an administrative monetary penalty framework that would be imposed upon anyone including tenants, owners and corporations for contravention of Fire Protection and Prevention Act and its regulations.

If you have any information, story ideas, or news tips for Law360 Canada on business-related law and litigation, including class actions, please contact Karunjit Singh at karunjit.singh@lexisnexis.ca or 905-415-5859.