As an original member of Ontario’s Condominium Authority Tribunal (CAT), I am convinced there is not a cat pun I have yet to encounter. I could be wrong but feel as though I have heard them all.
From the Zoom Filter to the Litterbox
With a spectrum of inspiration ranging from wholesome Dr. Seuss to the controversial Fritz the Cat, there have been good puns and bad. Clean and dirty. Supportive and insulting. Some have been witty. Some have made me groan. Too many have referenced nine lives. Not enough have referenced Garfield. I think my favourite involves someone purposely poorly pronouncing the French word for cat to express a rude sentiment about what we (the tribunal) do. Not because I agree with the assessment but because I respect the effort.
How It Started…
Led by CEO Robin Dafoe, the Condominium Authority of Ontario (CAO) assembled a team of staff and experts to prepare for the launch of Ontario’s first fully online tribunal on November 1, 2017. With an initial, narrow jurisdiction focused on condominium record disputes, this tribunal embraced technology pre-pandemic. The approach allowed it to overcome access-to-justice hurdles as an answer to the promise of delivering to the province’s condominium communities faster, cheaper and better ways to deal with conflict. Those pursuing justice would not need to take time off work to do so; no commute or state-of-the-art tech is required to participate.
The CAO embraced collaboration. Free self-help tools are offered online to help resolve a matter without filing a case. If filing a case is needed, a three staged process involving negotiation, mediation and adjudication costs a grand total of $200 – with most of the tribunal’s cases resolved for filing fees totaling less than half that amount.
Led by Chair Ian Darling, the CAT is a specialized administrative tribunal that provides subject matter experts amongst the mediators and adjudicators serving it. The CAT offers an inclusive justice-seeking journey; one that is well suited to the unique interplay of law and human dynamics which permeate Ontario’s condominium landscape. The default of a text-based, asynchronous process supports the self-represented from the outset, with space to consider what is convenient for all of the participants involved in any particular case. This represents progress by addressing several rigid, longstanding access-to-justice hurdles – including those related to cost and time that hampered the province’s condominium sector before the CAT arrived on the scene.
Preparing for launch and through its first year of operation, the CAO brought in Gary Yee as Advisor. Gary Yee is to administrative tribunals what Dave Grohl is to rock and roll. Seriously, if you ever find yourself at a gathering of administrative tribunal folk and experience a lull in the conversation, drop Gary’s name to break the silence. I’ve done it many times… it works!
As with Dave Grohl in the rock music scene, anyone who is anyone in the world of administrative tribunals knows or has been influenced by Gary Yee. (Some may not realize it yet.) Yee is an activist and advocate for racialized communities and a leader in administrative justice who has chaired and served on many tribunals. The CAT though, differed from all of the other tribunals Yee had been involved with:
“It felt very exciting when I joined the small team that was setting up the Condominium Authority Tribunal in early 2017. We shared this wonderful sense of being on the new frontiers of online dispute resolution – we were doing something very novel, very leading edge. … Our goal was to have a completely online tribunal that extended to the final adjudication or hearing stage. This was a rare opportunity to build a completely new tribunal from scratch. Even with my decades of experience in access-to-justice, I learned a lot about user-centric design. It was wonderful to work with creative people who were at the intersection of justice and technology.”
How It’s Going…
As you may care to know more about the CAT’s achievements than my musings about pun exhaustion, the CAO has recently released its 2022-2023 Annual Report.
Over the past fiscal year:
- there were 79,886 unique views of the section of the CAO’s website that offers legal considerations, reviews options and provides an overview of resolution path possibilities. This timely information and do it yourself assistance is known as ‘Guided Steps’ and help prevent unnecessary or misdirected conflict escalation. The continually high annual rate of engagement of Guided Steps (there were 76,725 visits in 2021-22) indicates there is interest in the information provided by a neutral authority about common issues in condo communities.
- over 60% of CAT cases closed were resolved at collaborative process stages – 69 cases were resolved in Stage 1 Negotiation, 106 through Stage 2 Mediation and 116 through an adjudicated Stage 3 Tribunal Decision. This highlights not just the importance but also the effectiveness of parties involved in condominium conflict working together to address it.
- there were 102 Decisions released. Together with the 66 Decisions rendered the year prior, the CAT is offering plenty of direction through consequences to help guide the handling of conflict within its jurisdiction. While decisions do not offer precedent in the same way the courts do, consistent decision making helps the end user understand realistic outcome possibilities as they take steps to address their issue.
True to Yee’s words about party-focused design, the CAT helps “[p]arties work towards resolving their disputes … [t]he system is available 24/7 and can be accessed from anywhere.” This removes the imposition of having to deal with inaccessible things like operating hours and commutes to participate in a case.
This past summer, Chair Darling issued a practice direction on active adjudication. Further proof of the tribunal’s commitment to overcoming longstanding hurdles, such as challenges experienced by those without legal representation.
The Travelling Cat Chronicles
Québec administrative justice legend, Hélène de Kovachich, has taken an interest in CAT. Hélène has a long practice of conciliation and judicial mediation, along with an international reputation for promoting collaboration and dispute resolution. Involved in la belle province’s admin law scene since 2006, de Kovachich is no stranger to the types of disputes CAT helps with – community-type disputes such as those that often emerge in a condominium setting. Conflict that can escalate quickly and persistent constantly; matters which are obviously a bad fit for backlogged courts. With self-proclaimed admiration of CAT, Hélène has referred to it since 2016, including in activity reports of la clinique de médiation at the Université de Montréal. Unfazed by the haters, at a conference this summer, Hélène de Kovachich suggested the Province of Quebec could benefit from a CAT all its own. Imagine the whole new spectrum of bad puns that could come out of that!
Note: The author does not speak for the Condominium Authority of Ontario or the Condominium Authority Tribunal. The views expressed are Marc’s and Marc’s alone, though all are welcome to embrace the comparison of Gary Yee to Dave Grohl.