Ministry of the Attorney General
Letter to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould regarding Unified Family Courts
The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould
Attorney General of Canada and Minister of Justice
284 Wellington Street
4th Floor East Memorial Building
Dear Minister Wilson-Raybould:
In October 2016, I wrote to share the Ontario government’s commitment to expanding the Unified Family Court. Today, I am writing to ask you for your support in making province-wide expansion of Unified Family Courts a reality in Ontario.
We know that going to family court is hard. As if the stress of family breakdown was not enough, people who come to family court in Ontario must also grapple with our fragmented family court system – a system where spouses, partners and parents are often required to attend at more than one court to resolve their family disputes.
My ministry is committed to providing meaningful access to justice for all family law litigants throughout Ontario. Access to justice means providing family court services and processes that are timely, efficient, effective and affordable. The province-wide expansion of the Unified Family Court – which works to save time and expense for litigants by simplifying processes, increasing consistency, and reducing court appearances — could go a long way towards achieving that goal.
As you know, the last significant expansion of the Unified Family Court took place in 1999. Today unified family courts are available in 17 communities across Ontario, providing a “single window” for families to resolve their disputes. Since 1999, my ministry has taken steps to ensure that as many Ontarians as possible can access the benefits of this model, no matter where they live. For example, in 2012, the ministry took two key components of the Unified Family Court model, mediation and information services, and rolled them out to all family courts across the province.
My goal is to have the full Unified Family Court model serving all communities by 2025, and I believe that, with your support, we are in a good position to make that goal a reality.
There is extensive support across Ontario for expansion. Justice community leaders with a common interest in promoting access to justice continue to voice clear and strong support for Unified Family Court expansion from both lawyers and family mediators – support that family law stakeholders repeat again and again.
In addition, the Chief Justices of the Superior Court of Justice and the Ontario Court of Justice continue to express their strong support. Recently, at the Opening of the Courts ceremony in September 2016, the chief justices committed to working closely with the Ontario government on a province-wide expansion plan.
In anticipation of the federal government’s call to submit proposals in 2017, my ministry established a working group to lead the development of a consensus-driven proposal for province-wide expansion in Ontario, in close partnership with the leadership of both the Superior Court of Justice and the Ontario Court of Justice.
I should also acknowledge that my ministry has been made aware of court pressures in existing Unified Family Court sites. I would like to reiterate my support for the Superior Court of Justice’s efforts in addressing these pressures.
In terms of planning for Phase One of Unified Family Court expansion, Ontario has identified proposed locations based on facilities’ readiness and the feasibility of expanding in judicial regions that are already partially served by Unified Family Courts. It is expected that Phase One, comprising eight new sites, could be implemented quickly once resource-related decisions are confirmed and the necessary judicial pool is made available. The eight proposed sites are: Belleville, Picton, Pembroke, Kitchener, Welland, Simcoe, Cayuga and St. Thomas.
Phase Two of this proposal will involve expansion to the remaining communities by 2025.
I understand from federal government officials that the government is taking a national approach to Unified Family Court expansion across Canada. Given that both levels of government have expressed a renewed commitment to build on the success of the Unified Family Court model during their respective mandates, Ontario is eager to move forward with this initiative as quickly as possible. I believe our province is uniquely positioned to do this as a result of the level of planning already completed. I am hopeful that officials will be able to work together to develop a plan for expansion of Unified Family Court over a defined schedule which will work for both our governments.
I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss this important initiative, and would very much appreciate if you could have an appropriate person in your office contact Kate Julien, Senior Policy Advisor in my office at 416-326-7081 to schedule a meeting in the coming weeks.
c: The Honourable George R. Strathy, Chief Justice, Ontario Court of Appeal
The Honourable Heather J. Smith, Chief Justice, Superior Court of Justice
The Honourable Lise Maisonneuve, Chief Justice, Ontario Court of Justice