Evidence of meeting #153 for Finance in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was research.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Nicholas Bala  Professor of Law, Faculty of Law, Queen's University, As an Individual
Athana Mentzelopoulos  Vice-President, Government Relations, Canadian Credit Union Association
Amanda Wilson  National Director, Canadian Health Coalition
John Callaghan  Chair, Government and Public Affairs Committee, Law Society of Ontario
Pierre Fogal  Site Manager, Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory, Canadian Network for Detection of Atmospheric Change
Peter Braid  Chief Executive Officer, Insurance Brokers Association of Canada
Marc-André Pigeon  Director, Financial Sector Policy, Canadian Credit Union Association

3:35 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

I believe we have all of our witnesses in place, so I'll call the meeting to order.

By video conference, we have John Callaghan and Aaron Denhartog; Nicholas Bala and Pierre Fogal. Thank you, gentlemen, and thank you to all the witnesses.

We are continuing our hearings on Bill C-74, the budget implementation act, based on the budget tabled on February 27, 2018, and other measures. We will also be hearing from witnesses at a session this afternoon.

We'll start with you, Professor Bala, from the faculty of law at Queen's University.

3:35 p.m.

Professor Nicholas Bala Professor of Law, Faculty of Law, Queen's University, As an Individual

Thank you very much. It's a privilege to be here to address the question of the increase in the number of unified family court judges in Canada to 75.

I am a law professor at Queen's University. I've worked in the family justice field for 40 years as a lawyer, researcher, and teacher. I'm here in an individual capacity, but I've also been involved with the Canadian Bar Association and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, Ontario Chapter, which are all supportive of the increase in the number of unified family court judges and, indeed, the expansion of the unified family court.

I am from Ontario, but I have also spoken, recently, to family justice professionals in Nova Scotia, Alberta, and Newfoundland and Labrador. I believe there is broad support in those jurisdictions, as well, for the expansion of the unified family court.

Having unified family courts will be both a more efficient way of delivering justice, and deliver better justice to families and children. It would also fulfill the mandate letter—or a portion of the mandate letter—that was given to the Minister of Justice at the start of her term.

As many of you probably realize, there is an ongoing crisis in family justice in Canada. There are enormous complaints about access to family justice, and concerns about the quality of family justice. Expanding unified family courts will help address that issue.

The first unified family court in Canada was established in Hamilton in 1977, and a feature of the unified family court includes a comprehensive jurisdiction, having specialist judges, and having appropriate support services in place, including mediation and assessment, access to children's lawyers, and so on.

In particular, by having more judges and having appropriate legislation, it will be comprehensive family law legislation, which will reduce the cost that is now incurred in the case where there is concurrent jurisdiction. It will also eliminate one unnecessary level of appeal, which we now have in many provinces, including much of Ontario.

Having unified family courts recognizes that family law is a distinct area that needs a special approach to legal justice. It will, and does, have a distinctive mission, philosophy, and rules, but of course, it's also governed by the legal process and legislation.

In particular, having unified family courts will facilitate case management by specialist judges who know what they're doing. It will help parents and litigants focus on the needs of children, and will result in more settlements.

The process we'll be going through will involve some new appointments, of course. Some of them will be people who are now in the provincial courts in various provinces, who will become unified family court judges. There will also be some new judges. One of the things about moving some of the judges from the provincial court to the unified family court is there'll be some financial savings for the provinces. I understand there are commitments from Ontario, and I assume other provinces, that those costs savings will be plowed back into the family justice system, which badly needs additional services.

Having unified family courts, and expanding them is a very important step toward improving the quality and accessibility to family justice. There are, however, certain other things we need to see. One of the issues to be addressed, and I believe this should happen, is that unified family courts should have jurisdiction over criminal cases that raise family violence issues, the less serious ones, and also deal with youth justice. This is the way the original family court was established in Hamilton in 1977, and that should be a model elsewhere, although I know that's contentious.

There are certainly other issues in terms of funding. We need more funding for family justice services, and in particular, there's a federal responsibility for family legal aid.

There are other issues to be addressed in the federal area of jurisdiction. Most notably, the Divorce Act, which was enacted in 1986, is badly in need of reform. It should become more child-focused, and deal better with issues of domestic violence.

Thank you for your attention, and I will be pleased to answer questions.

3:35 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you very much, Mr. Bala.

Some of the points you raised would probably have to go to the justice committee. We're basically looking at the financing side of it here. In any event, that will likely happen.

I wish to mention that we also have with us today, Marc-André Pigeon and Athana Mentzelopoulos from the Canadian Credit Union Association.

Ms. Mentzelopoulos.

3:40 p.m.

Athana Mentzelopoulos Vice-President, Government Relations, Canadian Credit Union Association

Thank you for the invitation to be here today.

Our association represents almost 260 credit unions and caisses populaires outside of Quebec. We serve over 5.6 million Canadians, contributing $6.5 billion to the country's GDP.

I think most of you are familiar with our sector. I do want to underline that credit unions are the only brick-and-mortar financial institutions in about 370 communities across Canada, providing an important alternative to big banks.

The regulatory burden remains an acute concern for credit unions. We have recent studies that show that small credit unions in Canada devote about five times more resources to regulatory compliance compared to their larger cousins.

In general, I'd like to make a statement about the fintech changes in Bill C-74. Our sector supports them, although we are reserving some judgment around the competitive impact.

However, I want to focus today on the proposed changes regarding banking terminology.

Our members were pleased with the commitment in budget 2018 to changes that allow credit unions to use generic banking terms, subject to disclosure. The commitment is, obviously, now reflected in the legislation.

The proposal would allow our members to continue to speak to Canadians about financial services in the language of financial services. We're grateful to members around this table and to the all-party parliamentary credit union caucus, amongst others, for the support in the campaign that we had earlier this year and last.

The caveat “subject to disclosure” is, we think, a signal that federal policy-makers have concerns about consumers' awareness of the regulatory structures surrounding all financial institutions, particularly due to the emergence and growth of unregulated financial institutions and the fintech sector in Canada.

We understand that federal policy-makers are looking for standardize practices about what information is shared with members and potential members regarding who regulates credit unions and who provides deposit insurance.

We are regulated, deposit-taking financial institutions. Our members remain concerned about the impact of extensive regulation on their ability to compete when such regulation doesn't contribute to the safety and soundness of the sector.

Provincial credit unions are incorporated, regulated, and insured at the provincial level. Regulatory authorities at the provincial level set credential standards and conduct reviews that are appropriate to co-operatively owned, deposit-taking institutions that have little exposure to international or foreign exchange markets.

We outperform other institutions in making high-quality loans. In fact, credit union losses have averaged less than half a per cent of total loans over the last two decades compared to our competitors. Provincial deposit insurance provides credit union members with protections equal to or greater than those available to bank depositors. Credit unions take extra steps to ensure that every dollar is protected.

The credit union system is committed to providing leadership in the area of consumer protection, and to ensuring that we continue to provide outstanding service. Our system puts the interests of its members first and foremost.

To this end, we are developing a national market code, or consumer code, that will support, advocate, and help to advance best practices. Our voluntary market code will ensure that Canadians understand the credit union difference, and they can be reassured of our commitment to transparency, integrity, and customer service. Among its many benefits, a voluntary code is the most effective way to ensure that consumers understand the regulatory and deposit-insurance framework of their credit union. In other words, it is our goal to meet the disclosure requirements through voluntary means.

There's ample evidence that voluntary codes are expedient, effective tools for ensuring consistent outcomes while also reducing jurisdictional challenges and cost. The Office of Consumer Affairs at Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada has suggested that voluntary codes offer a number of benefits to consumers, as well as to government and business.

In closing, I would like to underline that I'm here to represent credit unions across the country that are asking for flexible use of generic banking terminology and for a reasonable approach to disclosure requirements.

Thank you.

3:40 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you very much.

We'll turn now to the Canadian Health Coalition. Ms. Wilson is a national director there.


3:40 p.m.

Amanda Wilson National Director, Canadian Health Coalition

Good afternoon, and thank you for inviting the Canadian Health Coalition to speak today.

Founded in 1979, the Canadian Health Coalition is a public advocacy organization dedicated to the preservation and improvement of public health care. Our membership is comprised of national organizations representing health care workers, seniors, churches, anti-poverty groups, trade unions, as well as affiliated coalitions in 10 provinces and one territory.

We would like to share our perspective specifically on part 6 of Bill C-74, which proposes amendments “to allow Canada Health Transfer deductions to be reimbursed when provinces and territories have taken the steps necessary to eliminate extra-billing and user fees in the delivery of public health care.”

The Canadian Health Coalition welcomes this amendment, but we also believe it is imperative that this action be taken alongside other activities to curb the increasing threat of private, for-profit health care in Canada.

At a time when private clinics and user fees are springing up across the country, the federal government needs to make use of all the tools at its disposal to protect the ethos of equitable care for all. This includes withholding health transfer payments to provinces and territories who fail to uphold the core principles of the Canada Health Act that health care should be publicly administered, comprehensive, universal, portable, and accessible. In addition to violating these fundamental principles, unlawful extra billing comes at the expense of patients in need and the public purse.

In research led by our provincial affiliate, the Ontario Health Coalition, 136 private surgery, diagnostic, and boutique physician clinics were surveyed across Canada, finding evidence that at least 65% are charging extra user fees. These put patients at impossible decisions to choose between their health and basic living costs, and patients at these clinics often feel they have no choice but to pay for medically unnecessary add-ons and upgrades.

Recent research by the Parkland Institute highlights the rise of private membership clinics in Alberta. Individuals pay a yearly fee to access both insured medical services alongside non-insured medical services such as dieticians and massage therapists. This has the effect of limiting access to those needed medical professionals to those who can pay rather than those who are in need.

While some of these activities operate within a grey area, others are explicitly allowed by provincial governments. Saskatchewan allows private MRls to operate under a one-for-one scheme where private clinics are supposed to provide a free MRI to someone on the public waiting list for every paid MRI they perform. The Manitoba government has also expressed an interest in private MRls, and two are currently under development.

Quebec has had longstanding issues with user fees. Following threats of a lawsuit by patient groups and health advocates, they recently passed legislation to curb these fees, but there are reports that some patients are still being charged illegal fees.

Finally, right now in British Columbia, there is a potentially precedent-setting case at the B.C. Supreme Court to determine whether a for-profit surgery clinic, which was found to engage in double billing, should be allowed to operate.

Despite all of these examples and others, the federal government has been reluctant to impose punitive action against provinces that are enabling the proliferation of extra billing. In the past 15 years, there have only been a few instances of payments being withheld for non-compliance. In at least one case, those payments were reimbursed following the introduction of new legislation.

The overwhelming majority of Canadians want the federal government to act in defence of public health care. A recent poll commissioned by the CHC found that 89% of respondents want the federal government to intervene in unlawful billing from private practices. While the federal government should penalize provinces that fail to comply, we also do not want Canadians and the health care system to bear the financial burden of these penalties.

This amendment provides a way to reward provinces and territories for taking positive action. However, this change is meaningless if the Minister of Health does not enforce the Canada Health Act in the first place or if the federal government is not making sufficient investments in our public health care system.

In closing, we urge the federal government to take a more proactive stance in protecting the ethos of equitable care for all through broader investments in public universal health care along with increased data collection and reporting.

If this amendment will encourage such action, then we most definitely welcome it.

Thank you.

3:45 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you very much, Amanda.

Turning to the Law Society of Ontario, we have Mr. Denhartog and Mr. Callaghan.

I don't know, but is it a sign when we have the insurance brokers between the two of you?

3:45 p.m.


Oh, oh!

May 8th, 2018 / 3:45 p.m.

John Callaghan Chair, Government and Public Affairs Committee, Law Society of Ontario

Yes, we need the insurance brokers between us.

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and good afternoon to the committee.

My name is John Callaghan, and I'm a bencher of the Law Society of Ontario, where I serve as chair of the government and public affairs committee.

As most of you know, the Law Society regulates, licenses, and disciplines Ontario's more than 50,000 lawyers and more than 8,000 licensed paralegals. The Law Society has a duty to protect the public interest, to maintain and advance the cause of justice and the rule of law, and of course to facilitate access to justice.

Like Professor Bala before me, I too speak in favour of the increased funding that is going to the unified family court. Outside criminal law, investments in our country's courts rarely make headlines, but they should. No area of law affects Canadians more than family law. The 2018 federal budget took a big step to improving our family court system.

Last month's federal budget included $77.2 million over four years and then $20.8 million per year ongoing to support the expansion of the unified family courts, creating 39 new judicial positions in Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

In Ontario, funding will support phase one of Ontario's plan to immediately expand unified family courts to Belleville, Picton, Pembroke, Kitchener, Welland, Simcoe, Cayuga, and St. Thomas. This is welcome news for a system many believe, as Professor Bala indicated, needs significant improvement.

Consider the statistics. In 2016, Ontario's family court branch in the Superior Court of Justice had nearly 50,000 new proceedings dealing with divorce, custody, and other family-related issues. The Ontario Court of Justice had nearly 19,000 cases related to family law including custody, adoption, and child protection between September 2016 and October 2017.

A survey commissioned by our Law Society found that 58% of respondents ranked finding ways to improve the family justice system as one of the most important initiatives to be addressed in our jurisdiction. Of course, as Professor Bala indicated, the result of our federal system and our division of responsibilities under our Constitution, is that family law issues must be resolved by provincial courts and federal courts. This results in families seeking redress from two separate courts.

For example, families seeking a divorce or a division of property need to appear before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice and its federally appointed judges. These very same families need to go to the Ontario Court of Justice for custody issues. One family breakdown; two courts.

This is a complex and confusing system, which adds unnecessary and additional financial and emotional toll to an already-taxed family unit. This is the fate of approximately 60% of all families dealing with family breakdown. One can only imagine the stress that goes on for self-represented litigants in this area, and of course, their number is only growing.

Ontario and other provinces started to address this issue years ago. I won't repeat, but as Professor Bala said, it began in 1977 in Hamilton where one judge in one court determined all legal issues in a family law dispute related to divorce, custody, child protection, and property matters.

Improvements were made over time, and in Ontario, 17 of the province's 50 Superior Court of Justice locations, or approximately 40% of the province, now have a unified family court. However, that leaves a significant gap for the rest of the province.

This new funding will allow the province of Ontario to expand to jurisdictions where court space and necessary resources are available. A second phase is proposed but awaits the province, which will need to build the necessary facilities.

For decades, expanding UFCs has been a goal of Ontario's legal community. With the funding amounts in the budget, more people will have access to a timely, effective, and responsive family justice system that contributes to less adversarial, more sustainable, and better outcomes for families and children.

As our treasurer once stated, it may not make headlines, but it sure is important.

I thank the committee for hearing us, and I'm happy to answer to answer questions at the appropriate time.

3:50 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you very much.

We'll turn to the Canadian Network for Detection of Atmospheric Change with Mr. Fogal, who is appearing by video conference from Guelph, Ontario.


3:55 p.m.

Pierre Fogal Site Manager, Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory, Canadian Network for Detection of Atmospheric Change

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I'm Pierre Fogal, a senior research associate with the physics department at the University of Toronto, and I serve as site manager of the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory—usually called PEARL. I'm talking to you today in reference to the Canadian High Arctic Research Station, but we have little specific knowledge of that, as it is an entirely new entity that has yet to take its place among the working research stations of the Canadian Arctic. However, as my experiences with PEARL may be of use, I will speak to those.

As you may know, PEARL is located in the High Arctic in the vicinity of the Eureka weather station at approximately 80° north, 86° west. This is accessible only by chartered aircraft or by yearly Canadian Coast Guard sealift. PEARL consists of three facilities: the PEARL Ridge Lab, the big red building often seen in photographs, is approximately 15 kilometres by road from Eureka; the Zero-Altitude PEARL Auxiliary Laboratory, which we call 0PAL, is located at the weather station; and the Surface and Atmospheric Flux, Irradiance, Radiation Extension Site—SAFIRE—is located approximately five kilometres east of the weather station near the Eureka airport.

The PEARL Ridge Lab was originally constructed for Environment Canada and operated as the Arctic Stratospheric Ozone Observatory from 1993 to 2002. At that point it was shuttered as part of cost-cutting measures. The Canadian Network for the Detection of Atmospheric Change, CANDAC, with Professor James Drummond as the principal investigator, reopened and renamed the facility in 2005, and we as CANDAC have operated it since that time, with the majority of funding coming from various federal government initiatives, such as the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, and later through the Canadian climate change and atmospheric research fund administered by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. Currently we are operating on a special 18-month extension of our NSERC funding, until September 2019, but beyond that the future is unknown.

There are many challenges to operating a High Arctic research station. The most obvious of these is dealing with the local conditions. Perhaps not as obvious are the long lead times built into virtually every decision. Much of that is driven by the sheer remoteness of stations like PEARL. There are no local sources for materiel, fuel, or food, not to mention scientific equipment. This is compounded by the transportation limitations imposed by the need to either fly goods in or to ship them via sea once per year. Any large item or collection of supplies travelling by sea will not arrive in Eureka until late August, the tail end of the outdoor working season. Flying supplies in can happen in a more immediate time frame, but at a significantly higher cost. Good planning and flexibility help, but timelines for large projects always seem to begin a year in arrears due simply to the difficulty in delivering materials to the Far North.

Inherent in the reality of long supply lines with a long-term timeline is the need for stable funding for periods that are longer than typical. Timelines in the Arctic are generally rather longer than would be required for similar activity in southern Canada. If construction work is required, then that is exacerbated by the very short season available. Thus, funding for ongoing projects needs to be sufficient to cover the realities of greater expense, expensive shipping, likely delays, and all of the other costs associated with working in very remote areas. If a project is anticipated to continue to exist, as in the case of both PEARL and CHARS, then the future funding sources must be known well in advance of the termination of current funding to permit for both proposals as needed and planning.

It is also the case that when dealing with operations in the Arctic, some flexibility in fiscal management can ease the repercussions of setbacks. If northern suppliers are to be used—and this is our preferred approach—then providers with known qualifications and Arctic experience are a significant benefit. Furthermore, there are decidedly fewer options to choose between, and the easing of financial management requirements recognizing that sometimes there is only one supplier, and placing greater weight on experience, would almost certainly yield a cost and time benefit.

In closing, I will note that CANDAC PEARL has been in operation now for 13 years, and throughout that time it has carried out successful programs of atmospheric science that have been recognized nationally and internationally. Additionally, our presence in Eureka is synergistic, allowing other groups in other disciplines to operate in Eureka far more easily than they might otherwise have, because they make use of our facilities or services. Further investment in scientific research and development in the Arctic would lead to similar returns.

I thank you for your time, and I am willing and available for questions as needed.

4 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you very much, Mr. Fogal.

We will turn to the last witnesses, and then we'll go to questions. We have Peter Braid from the Insurance Brokers Association of Canada. Welcome.

4 p.m.

Peter Braid Chief Executive Officer, Insurance Brokers Association of Canada

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Good afternoon, honourable members. I'm very pleased to be here today on behalf of the Insurance Brokers Association of Canada, or IBAC, to contribute to the public discussion on Bill C-74.

As a former member of the House of Commons, I appreciate the opportunity to attend committee from the new perspective this side of the table provides. I recall as well that only the best and the brightest from the House of Commons serve on the finance committee, and I note that I was never a member of this committee.

4 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

4 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Insurance Brokers Association of Canada

Peter Braid

As many of you will know, IBAC is the national voice of property and casualty insurance brokers, advocating for the interests of both insurance brokers and consumers to the Government of Canada.

Brokers have a long history of providing customer service, non-biased insurance advice, while consistently demonstrating their strong commitment to consumer protection. Operating small businesses in virtually every city and town across Canada, brokers create employment and support the local economy. They are also community leaders who make a difference in their respective communities.

Let me begin by saying that IBAC welcomes the continuation of consumer protections in the budget bill. As members of the committee will know, Bill C-74 includes proposed amendments to the Bank Act that give greater flexibility for financial institutions to undertake fintech activities. IBAC is pleased that these changes specifically maintain the banks' existing restrictions on business powers, meaning that banks cannot carry on the business of insurance at the point of granting credit. As the government develops regulations for fintech it will be important to ensure that the historical separation between banking and insurance is preserved.

We must ensure that banks are not allowed to do through the back door what they are prohibited from doing through the front door with regard to retailing or making referrals in the insurance marketplace. We believe this will be accomplished by making it clear in the regulations that new fintech entities are subject to the same restrictions as banks. For the record, IBAC supports measures to modernize the federal financial sector framework through technology and innovation. Being from Waterloo, I know how important that is for the economy.

At the same time, the principle of protecting consumers is paramount for insurance brokers. That is why insurance ought not to be sold to consumers at the point of granting credit. This fundamental position has been upheld by successive governments with all-party support, and further expanded to include the online environment.

Bill C-74 explicitly states that new provisions in the area of fintech will continue to be subject to the banks' traditional restrictions on business powers and insurance. As you continue your deliberations it is critically important that these consumer protections are maintained. They serve the best interests of your constituents.

I would also like to take this opportunity to note that this committee has studied the issue of bank practices brought to light by the media, involving questionable sales activities. I followed these hearings closely and commend the committee for this important work. Your study noted the ever-expanding role banks play in consumers' lives, and underscored the important need to protect financial consumers and ensure they are not taken advantage of.

As you know, Canada's financial system is the envy of the world. The fact that our banks and insurance companies remained so solid during the financial crisis in 2008 demonstrates the importance of well-regulated and separated business powers. Now as financial sector players continue to innovate and bring new products to consumers, it will become more important than ever to ensure that our regulations continue to be effectively applied and enforced.

We look forward to this bill's eventual passage into law, and to continuing to work with the government to create a consumer-focused regulatory regime.

Thank you very much.

4:05 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you, Peter.

We'll go to questions. We're dealing now with several sections of the bill at once, so we'll likely be jumping all over the place. If anybody has additional comments to make when a question goes to somebody else, just raise your hand and I'll let you in.

We'll turn first to Mr. Fergus, for a seven-minute round.

4:05 p.m.


Greg Fergus Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Thank you Chair, and thank you to all of our invited guests for coming today.

Thank you very much for your presentation. I'm very pleased to be able to ask some questions.

My questions are going to focus largely on the unified family courts. Forgive me as I focus on those.

My question could be to either or both Mr. Callaghan and Mr. Bala. It's in regard to the need for self-represented litigants in family law proceedings. People feel the need for, but just don't have access to, legal representation. It's not cheap to have a lawyer help them out in the court system and to deal with the complexity of the courts, and so we are seeing a rise in self-represented litigants.

How do you feel these unified family courts will reduce the incidence of self-represented litigants?

4:05 p.m.

Chair, Government and Public Affairs Committee, Law Society of Ontario

John Callaghan

I'll hop in there before Professor Bala, who I know will have insightful comments as well.

The reality of the unified family court is that first, it's one-stop shopping. It allows for the litigant, self-represented or otherwise, to go to one court. Second, what has happened, and Professor Bala can probably speak in more detail, is that over the years a specialization has developed, and not just in the courtroom. They are providing family services, information sessions, and mediation. The long-term idea is to have a more holistic situation.

Your underlying premise, of course, is that legal services are prohibitive to the average Canadian and that legal aid just doesn't reach it. Part of the challenge we're going to have, which is not going to be resolved in a day and which this will not solve, is to streamline family law services and make them more accessible and easier to deal with.

These are very contentious and emotional issues, and that goal may not be entirely possible in every case. It probably falls more to the provinces, though also the federal government, to think of innovative ways to address family law rather than work on the traditional model.

I suspect Professor Bala probably has more insightful comments.

4:05 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Professor Bala, go ahead.

4:05 p.m.

Prof. Nicholas Bala

Mr. Callaghan certainly hit many of the major points that unified family courts will help address, namely, issues related to self-represented litigants and access to justice. They are certainly not a total solution, but will only improve the position of self-represented litigants.

As pointed out by Mr. Callaghan, it will mean that for every litigant, whether they have a lawyer or not, the legal process will be more efficient and hence more accessible. The fact that there will be specialist judges will lead to faster resolution of cases and more emphasis on settlement of cases, with knowledgeable judges who can more quickly help people resolve their cases.

As he pointed out as well, a major part of having unified family courts is to have a range of services that can help resolve cases—in particular mediation, but also assessment services and parenting education services. These are more easily put into place if there's a unified family court.

For all those reasons, having unified family courts will help address the issue of self-represented litigants. However, by no means is it a total solution.

For example, one thing many of us are working on is to increase the use of what we call “limited scope services”. In situations in which some people can't afford the full service of a lawyer, they would be able to get some legal advice at a reasonable price on a per hour basis, including perhaps at the courts as well as in offices.

We need changes to the family law rules and forms in every province, but certainly in Ontario as well. There needs to be an increase in availability of public information and education for people who are self-represented.

This is a complex question that will require many different kinds of responses, but unified family courts are certainly a step in the right direction.

4:10 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Mr. Fergus.

4:10 p.m.


Greg Fergus Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Professor Bala, following up on a part of what you made reference to, we all know that divorce or separation are stressful times for Canadian families. I understand that one of the benefits of the unified family courts is that the specialized judges are not only experts on legal questions but also have some training in the emotional and psychological issues that often arise in family law matters, which enable them to support the well-being of family members in a more comprehensive way.

Do you find that the presence of these specialized judges in unified family courts will benefit family law litigants and their families?

4:10 p.m.

Prof. Nicholas Bala

It would be great if we had more Canadian research. That might be another part of your mission to perhaps fund research, but the research we do have, both within Canada and particularly internationally, indicates that having specialist judges results in both faster resolution and more settlements.

The settlement function of the courts, particularly unified family courts, is especially important and, again, members of the public may think that judges conduct trials, which they do. But most cases are settled as a result of discussions that go on involving not only lawyers but also judges, and this is an area where specialist judges are particularly important. They have the knowledge to help with, as you point out, both the mental health and psychological understanding of the dynamics that are going on and the knowledge to help people settle their cases a lot more quickly. This will be one of the biggest benefits of unified family courts. It's the settlement more than the trials.

4:10 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Okay, we will end that round there.

Mr. Callaghan, do you want in?

4:10 p.m.

Chair, Government and Public Affairs Committee, Law Society of Ontario

John Callaghan

All I would say is that a lot of this is concerning a fundamental change, and the fact we're here at the finance committee talking about it is a good thing. It always amazes me that we don't have public debates around family law.

If I ask how many of you around this room know someone who was convicted of a criminal offence, you are probably going to say that you don't. How many of you have been involved in significant civil litigation? Probably not. Everybody around this table has been involved in the family law system directly or through a child or a sibling or a best friend, and yet nobody talks about it. The fact that this committee, ironically a finance committee, is listening to us talk about this is most important.

This is right at the front door of every one of your constituencies. and we don't talk about it. As Professor Bala was indicating, it's going to take fundamental rethinking of some areas of the law. It's going to require resources, but it is astounding that we don't talk about it.

So, congratulations to this committee, a finance committee, of all committees, for actually talking about it.