HRTO backlog calls for innovative outsourcing

By Staff

Out-of-the-box thinking is required to address the backlog of cases at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) due to a shortage of adjudicators, says Toronto mediator Bernard Morrow.

“Over the last six months, I’ve been receiving an unprecedented number of calls from people looking to see if I can mediate their dispute because of delays at the HRTO,” says Morrow, principal of the full-service dispute resolution firm Morrow Mediation.

A CBC report highlights the backlog, noting the HRTO has been actively seeking adjudicators since October 2018.

The article states the shortage of adjudicators is causing widespread delays that could undermine cases, prolong conflicts and discourage vulnerable people from seeking relief.

“A notice on the tribunal’s website says the dearth of adjudicators is affecting its ability to meet its service standards, noting complainants may have to wait longer than usual before mediation or a hearing,” CBC reports. “Meanwhile, the tribunal reported last fall that it had seen an unprecedented 25 per cent increase in its caseload in the previous year and a half, and currently receives roughly 4,500 applications annually.”

Morrow tells that delays are frustrating for all sides in a dispute, and the HRTO should start looking at some innovative ways to drain the backlog, such as retaining private mediators.

“Yes, there would be a cost associated,” he says, “but you don’t want these disputes to linger and fester. It’s bad for everyone involved.”

“The HRTO posted for part-time members and full-time vice chairs on its website last October,” Morrow says, and in the absence of hiring, suggests retaining experienced mediators and adjudicators with expertise in employment law and human rights issues on a short-term basis to address the backlog.

Morrow says there are many mediators and adjudicators with that kind of experience, and there would be a minimal expense in training them to deal with HRTO cases.

“They would require training and guidance on internal HRTO processes and the rights-based parameters under the Ontario Human Rights Code,” he says, adding that establishing a temporary roster or creating a pilot project to address a systemic backlog is not unprecedented. He cites his own experience with the Financial Services Commission of Ontario where he was retained on two separate occasions to address mediation and pre-hearing backlogs of accident benefits cases.

The HRTO notes it is still struggling with the overwhelming caseload and staff shortage, and while it has implemented several process changes to speed things along — such as a case-management system which assigns an adjudicator from the start to finish of a file — there is still a shortage of qualified adjudicators.

Morrow says most complaints generally revolve around workplace issues and should be addressed quickly for the benefit of all concerned.

“An unresolved conflict in a workplace is not a good thing for the parties or the workplace,” he says. “And judging from the calls I’m getting, there’s clearly a problem getting these matters resolved.”

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