Ontario wants to fine people $25K for sharing videos of online eviction hearings
Tenants in Ontario have been organizing and advocating for rent relief and a ban on evictions over the course of the pandemic, but a new bill set to be introduced in the province makes it illegal to record or distribute photos and videos of virtual eviction hearings — one of the main ways activists have been sharing information and shedding light on the current situation.
Ontario's Landlord and Tenant Board has been holding virtual eviction hearings since the pandemic rendered in-person hearings unsafe, a process that advocates say has resulted in unethical mass evictions of residents who've been disporportionately impacted by COVID-19.
In November, December and January alone, the LTB held more than 13,000 eviction hearings — many of which lasted no more than a few minutes — prompting some, including an LTB adjudicator, to call it a "blitz."
Now, advocates say a new bill called Bill 276, Supporting Recovery and Competitiveness Act will make it even easier for tenants to be evicted while preventing the exposure of what goes on at the LTB.
Before it shuts down Queen’s Park early for the summer, the Ontario government plans to ram through Bill 276 which includes amendments targeting tenant organizers with fines for exposing mass evictions under #COVID19. pic.twitter.com/bQNDxYFZdy— Cole Webber (@colefwebber) April 18, 2021
"Buried in the bill is an amendment to the Statutory Powers Procedure Act which sets fines of up to $25,000 for the recording and sharing of online tribunal hearing proceedings," says Evictions Ontario, a grassroots organization made up of working-class tenants in Toronto that tracks evictions in the province.
"As the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board continues to churn out hundreds of eviction orders each week, the government is moving to eliminate exposure of mass evictions by targeting tenant organizers with massive fines."
The Ontario government is threatening tenant organizers with fines of up to $25,000 for exposing Ontario's mass evictions crisis under COVID-19.— PeoplesDefenceTO (@Peoples_Defence) April 19, 2021
Bill 276, like Bill 184, makes it easier than ever for corporate landlords to mass evict families. Welcome to https://t.co/wzoshwOcVX. https://t.co/EoCIf4VK83
Keep Your Rent Toronto and People's Defence TO, organizations made up of tenants and activists advocating for no COVID-19 evictions, have been documenting virtual LTB hearings by sharing video and audio footage on Twitter and informing the public about some of the injustices taking place.
In one case that was publicized several months ago, for example, the child of tenant who is not fluent in English was pressured to agree to a rent repayment plan on the parent's behalf.
the one where they tried to coerce a child into accepting a repayment plan on behalf of her family https://t.co/11ASrtJI8u— yazmine is tired (@yazminegray) April 19, 2021
In another situation, a tenant expressed that she did not feel comfortable giving out her phone number publicly while on the call because she is a survivor of domestic abuse, but she was told she had no choice if she wanted to access Tenant Duty Counsel.
the one where they wanted to evict a disabled woman and demanded she pay 11 000 dollars in eleven days. She literally couldn't get up and down the stairs. How the fuck was she gonna make that money? Impossible payment plans, and no compassion. https://t.co/rhvKOp2HPZ— yazmine is tired (@yazminegray) April 19, 2021
"When tenants are absent their eviction hearing goes ahead without them, but when landlords don't show up the hearing is held down until later," legal clinic worker Cole Webber told blogTO of the blitz back in December.
"When tenants come prepared to argue their case for relief from eviction they are told there is not enough time and the case is adjourned to a later date."
the one where a tenant is asked "how much are you willing to sacrifice in order to maintain your tenancy?" big supervillain energy https://t.co/sWiMcTbHKP— yazmine is tired (@yazminegray) April 19, 2021
And while eviction hearings originally moved online as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government recently announced plans to make the virtual process permanent — yet another move that has resulted in outrage from tenants and advocates alike.
"Since the government moved Landlord and Tenant Board hearings online and effectively behind closed doors, working class people have organized to challenge and expose the increasingly secretive eviction process," says Evictions Ontario.
"In response, the LTB has ordered evictions against hundreds of tenants without them being present in as little as 60 seconds, obstructed tenants from obtaining legal advice from Tenant Duty Counsel lawyers, forced tenants' children to act as interpreters at their own eviction hearings, and booted dozens of observers from its virtual hearing rooms."
Ontario currently has an eviction enforcement ban in place for the duration of the stay-at-home order, but LTB hearings are permitted to continue on nonetheless.
The province is meanwhile scheduled to introduce Bill 276 later this week.
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