Many thanks to my esteemed colleague, Philip Epstein, for granting permission to publish here his report with respect to the expected expansion of unified family courts in Canada and particularly in Ontario. Published with permission from Westlaw's "Epstein's This Week in Family Law, Fam. L. News. 2018-13 [copyright Thomson Reuters Canada Limited]:
The call for a Unified Family Court in Canada has gone on for more than 30 years. Federal and provincial governments have in the past moved very slowly in establishing Unified Family Courts throughout the country, even in places where there is an obvious demand and need. A myriad of cases that have been canvassed in the Newsletter over the last decade has demonstrated the problems that the lack of a Unified Family Court system has caused to unfortunate litigants. At long last we are beginning to see some progress.
The February, 2018 Federal Budget approved 39 federally appointed judges for Unified Family Courts in four Canadian jurisdictions with funding to become available in April, 2019. Ontario will be one of the primary beneficiaries of the expansion. [emphasis added] As a result of this expansion Unified Family Courts will be available to half of Ontario Superior Court sites and approximately half of Ontario's population. The new sites will be St. Thomas, Welland, Kitchener, Simcoe, Cayuga, Belleville and Picton, and Pembroke. This will make the Unified Family Court available throughout the Superior Court's East Region as well as in most of the courts in the Central South Region. In the meantime, planning continues at the provincial level, with support from both courts and the Ministry, to bring a Unified Family Court to the remaining 25 Ontario Superior Court locations by 2025. [Emphasis added] Additional federal funding would be required to complete Unified Family Court expansion in Ontario. [GCC Comment: Phil Epstein has long been an advocate for such reform. See my 2013 blog post where I published what he had to say then. Click Here.]
The new family court positions should also allow Nova Scotia to have a province-wide Unified Family Court. This will also bring Unified Family Courts to Alberta and Newfoundland/Labrador. This step has taken a very long time and many would say far too long. The Federal and Provincial governments are to be commended for supporting this important initiative and it is to be hoped that they will both keep to the timetable and complete the expansion of UFC by 2025. A scant seven years from now!
We have just passed Martin Luther King Day and the 50th anniversary of his death, thus it is fitting and appropriate to paraphrase his greatest speech, and so we can say with respect to the expansion of the UFC, "We have been allowed to go up to the mountain. We have looked over. We have seen the promised land. We will not get there with you, but we want you to know that as a people we will get to the promised land."
We should all extend our thanks to the Honourable Jodi Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, and to Marco Mendocino MP, Parliamentary Secretary, and the Honourable Yasin Naqvi Attorney General of Ontario for taking this important step in the development of the family law justice system in Canada.