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.