A fair and effective Toronto Licensing Tribunal is good for your business
Apparently quasi-judicial administrative tribunals like the Toronto Licensing Tribunal, are gradually changing the way they operate.
In the past, tribunals kept a huge barrier between themselves and the industries they adjudicate over. While City staff could and did offer training sessions to tribunal members, direct contact with people from all license categories was at best discouraged, at worst utter taboo with (perhaps justified) fears of creating perceptions that licensees could improperly influence panel decisions.
More openness resulting in a better understanding of various businesses is a good thing overall, but I submit great care must be taken to avoid both any charges of bias in the way they make decisions and just as importantly, any potential perception of bias.
At the January Business Meeting of the TLT, among a number of other agenda items, was a discussion of potentially creating a, let’s call it for want of a better term, TLT Advisory Committee.
Allow me to step backwards for a moment.
It can be safely said I have attended more TLT meetings, and meetings of its predecessor, the old Metropolitan Licensing Commission, over the past 30 odd years, than anyone else in the city, including City staff. People now have no idea how dreadful it was in the past. I continue to attend and report on these hearings because I think the work the disciplinary body does is important for all those holding City business licenses. The vast majority of license holders operate their businesses decently and well.
Then there are those who screw up in one way or another. These people can give all others in their chosen lines of work bad reputations. Bad cab drivers giving substandard service or abusing customers in any number of ways can tarnish the good names of all cab drivers and owners. Many of you can likely attest to the truth of this. I’ve been to parties where people have badmouthed all cab drivers because they had one bad ride, literally 10 years previously. It is not fair. But it does happen and this can, in these highly competitive days, lead to more business for the competition.
Put it this way perhaps: the TLT is a major line of defense for the good operators working in this city. So its integrity must be preserved.
The TLT is busy. According to this past year’s annual TLT report to City Council, the tribunal received 180 Licensing Reports (up from 136 in 2016), 21 Enforcement Reports (up from 20 in 2016), 58 Licensing Updates (up from 17 in 2016) and 22 Enforcement Updates (up from 7 in 2016).
That is: TLT received 201 new cases and 81 Updated reports. 214 cases were scheduled for adjudication over 51 hearing dates (an increase in hearing dates of 23%). Of these, 131 were scheduled for pre-hearings with about half of these resulting in agreements (Joint Submissions to the hearing panel).
Of 137 decisions rendered by TLT panels, 71 dealt with taxicab matters, both owner and driver related (40 for bylaw contraventions, 14 applications for license renewal and 17 new applicants). The next busiest license category dealt with by the TLT are Body Rub Parlour matters.
Interestingly enough, utterly absent from TLT records are any matters dealing with Public Transportation Companies (PTCs) and their drivers. I guess not one of the some 50,000 PTC drivers ran afoul of the City’s bylaws in 2016, or something. Make of that what you will.
So, I’ll go back to the ongoing discussions about forming some form of advisory body for the tribunal. As I understand it, the purpose of this body will be to assist in improving things like scheduling and devising ways to make the process more understandable for those appearing before the tribunal.
As I understand it, matters relating to individual cases and decisions, or dealing with interpretation of law, or penalties, will be strictly off limits for this new TLT advisory group. Attempts to delve into these and other highly sensitive areas would be shut down promptly, as well they should be.
Using a wide spectrum of stakeholders including but not solely the City, particularly Municipal Licensing and Standards and the City Legal department, could make issues clearer for TLT members, the public and licensees (including the representatives of various groups within the taxi industry). Perhaps things will go smoother and/or more efficiently resulting in better decisions overall.
This is particularly important since the vast majority of licensees appearing before the TLT do so without legal assistance. (My first guess is these licensees simply don’t have the money to pay a lawyer or paralegal.)
It is also important to note that interpreter services are not provided at pre-hearing conferences but are available for full hearings. If a licensee cannot understand what is going on at a pre-hearing, the matter is automatically sent on to the tribunal for a full hearing. The TLT is keenly aware of this problem and is seeing what can be done to correct it. The TLT Annual Report notes interpreters were used 25 times at hearings in 2016.
The amount of work done by the TLT is astounding, particularly when you understand that one member died suddenly (Richard Quan) and two other members resigned after being appointed to full time posts on a provincial tribunal. All had to be replaced.
If direct contact with all stakeholders in the TLT process could make things better, I’m all for it. At the same time I am certain TLT members as well as City staff are keenly aware that this potentially is a minefield that must be approached extremely carefully.