The Ontario government is poised to present the Enhancing Access to Justice Act, 2023, today. This new legislation, if enacted, promises to streamline the process for crime victims to seek legal redress for emotional trauma. Attorney General Doug Downey emphasized the government’s commitment to prioritizing crime victims, safeguarding children and youth, and bolstering community safety.
Key aspects of the proposed act include revising the Victims’ Bill of Rights, 1995, to facilitate easier lawsuits against offenders for emotional distress, particularly in cases of terrorism, vehicle theft, human trafficking, and hate crimes against places of worship. Additionally, the act aims to prevent the cultivation of recreational cannabis in childcare settings, enhancing the protection of minors.
Solicitor General Michael Kerzner highlighted the government’s efforts to provide justice for families of construction workers who have died on the job. The proposed legislation will also bring updates to the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, empowering fire departments to better comply with Ontario’s fire safety regulations.
Further reforms under the Enhancing Access to Justice Act, 2023, will address the Courts of Justice Act and other statutes. These include measures to curb delays in child protection trials due to judicial appointments to other courts, ensuring more efficient court operations for Ontarians.
The urgency of this legislation is underscored by recent statistics. Ontario witnessed a near 20% surge in police-reported hate crimes in 2022, prompting a $25.5 million investment over two years to support anti-hate initiatives for religious and minority groups. The province has also seen a significant rise in auto thefts, with a 72% increase from 2014 to 2021. In response, the government has allocated $18 million over three years to assist police in combating this trend.
Human trafficking, increasingly prevalent in Ontario, remains a focal concern. The province’s five-year Anti-Human Trafficking Strategy, introduced in 2020, concentrates on awareness, protection, early intervention, survivor support, and offender accountability. Complementing these efforts, the Victim Support Grant for 2023-24 provides over $4 million across Ontario to aid victims and survivors of intimate partner violence, domestic violence, human trafficking, and child exploitation.