Civil Litigation in Ontario: Broke And Not Likely To Be Fixed Anytime Soon

Ontarians are privileged to have an excellent system of Justice when it comes to criminal Law, family Law and child protection. It should be thus. And although many cases seem slow and ponderous, the full weight of the law is applied to these cases involving tragic personal circumstances. Crime, family breakdown, custody and child abuse are all front burner issues and are, not surprisingly, politically attractive. That is where the money gets spent.

The downside to this is that the civil litigation (lawsuit) side of things has become the poor cousin in our system of public dispute resolution. Civil litigants wait at the end of the line that leads to the court room door. Judicial resources have become so scarce that someone ready for a civil trial in Toronto today will, at best, get a trial date two years from now. It’s only marginally better at the regional courthouses in the GTA. For example, litigants in Durham Region (where I languish) are allotted only three weeks in November and three weeks in May with judges allocated to hear cases. And that is whether the case is expected to last two days or two months.

Although only a small fraction of civil cases ever go to trial, many disputes or claims simply cannot be resolved without the intervention of a judge or jury. Stubborn positions in civil cases are encouraged and promoted by the long delays and excessive costs of having one’s “day in court”.

Take for example the case of Mr. Bhasin against Mr. Hrynew about which I recently commented on these pages. In short, Mr. Hrynew tricked (with help) Mr. Bhasin out of his company in 2001. Mr. Bhasin started his lawsuit against Mr. Hrynew on January 31, 2002. The trial was in 2011. Mr. Bhasin won [I digress to express hope that Mr. Bhasin was, at this stage, happy – happy to have won and happy to be done with the lawsuit].

Not so fast! Mr. Hrynew appealed to the Court of Appeal and won in 2013. And, if at this point you believe in the maxim “he who wins last, wins”, you would be wrong.

Mr. Bhasin dug deeper into his pocket book and paid his lawyer to ask the Supreme Court of Canada for permission to appeal the decision of the Court of Appeal (you need permission to appeal to the Supremes in Ottawa). They said okay. Mr. Bhasin and his lawyer prepared the necessary paperwork, did the necessary research and went to Ottawa to argue the appeal in February 2014. They then waited for a decision, as did Mr. Hrynew.

The Judges of the Supreme Court of Canada thought long and hard about the case of Mr. Bhasin v. Mr. Hrynew. In November 2014 they rendered their unanimous decision and found in favour of Mr. Bhasin. Justice, 12 years in the making. Was it worth it? After all this, Mr. Hrynew was ordered to pay Mr. Bhasin $87,000 plus interest for his misappropriated business and partial reimbursement for 12 years of legal fees. And you and I, and the rest of the Country got a clear message that fair dealing and honesty are the foundation of commercial contracts in Canada.

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