Editorial: A hefty agenda

There was a dizzying array of legal developments from the Ontario government last week.

On Wednesday, the province announced it had passed its long-awaited legislation dealing with strategic litigation against public participation. Following years of struggle to get the legislation passed, the Protection of Public Participation Act will provide the courts with an expedited process to identify and dismiss lawsuits aimed at silencing legitimate public debate. Upon royal assent, the law will apply to lawsuits that began on or after Dec. 1, 2014.

The same day, the government released its regulations aimed at regulating and prohibiting the controversial practice of street checks. The regulations will expressly prohibit the random and arbitrary collection of identifying information by police and establish clear rules for voluntary interactions with officers.

On top of that, the province revealed legislation to tackle sexual violence and harassment the day before. The legislation, the sexual violence and harassment action plan act, would affect a number of areas, including employers’ duties to protect workers and investigate complaints.

The changes are welcome. The Protection of Public Participation Act will provide an important bulwark to free expression and follows the work of an expert panel that sought to balance both the rights of plaintiffs and defendants where an allegation of strategic litigation against public participation arises. The police regulations, meanwhile, offer an overdue framework to govern officers’ interactions with the public and make it clear that arbitrary stops are off the table. With street checks having become such a poisonous issue, the province had to step in.

All of these provincial developments are happening as Canadians gear up for a new federal government under the Liberal party this week. As Law Times columnist Richard Cleroux notes, incoming prime minister Justin Trudeau will have a massive agenda. Besides economic issues, major priorities will include meeting a promise to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of the year. The government will also face the tough task of figuring out how to stickhandle its proposal to legalize marijuana possession and quickly come up with a response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on assisted suicide.

When it comes to the big picture, the Liberal platform wasn’t all that radical, but the party did make a slew of promises that will mean notable change in a number of areas. People may agree or disagree with what’s on the table, but it’s clear it’s going to be a busy and interesting time for legal reform on both the federal and provincial levels.

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