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WSIAT Celebrates 25th Anniversary at Osgoode Hall Symposium

WSIAT In Focus 21(1) April 2011

In October 2010, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Tribunal (WSIAT) celebrated its 25th anniversary, and in recognition of this significant milestone held its 25th Anniversary
Symposium at Osgoode Hall on December 14, 2010. During the symposium, which drew a crowd of nearly 150 professionals from the workplace safety and insurance law community, guests were treated to an afternoon in the company of distinguished panel speakers and an evening of congenial discussion at the reception afterward.

The first panel, which was moderated by Susan Adams, WSIAT Director, consisted of the former Chair of the Tribunal and two leading counsel in the area of workplace safety and
insurance law. The panel considered the topic "WSIAT: The Future Revisited."

Ron Ellis, the first Chair of the Tribunal, provided a careful review of the unique structural advantages enjoyed by WSIAT, which allowed it to become an "exemplar of all that is good in the tribunal world." Mr. Ellis highlighted the significance the Tribunal's institutional independence and freedom from financial or political threat of any ministry, specifically the importance of the Tribunal's ability to control appointments, to develop and defend its own budgets and to freely create and implement its own innovative operational designs. Mr. Ellis stated that WSIAT is evidence of what can be achieved by any optimally competent group of managers and adjudicators when the government "gets the structure right," and recommended that this model be adopted as the standard structural template for adjudicative tribunals everywhere.

David Brady, partner at Hicks Morley LLP, and a previous winner of the Ron Ellis award for excellence in workers' compensation law, described the Tribunal as "a body that keeps its promises." Mr. Brady commended the Tribunal for its well-reasoned and consistent decisions, noting that "it is extraordinary to receive decisions which are understandable, readable and that representatives can share easily with their clients." Mr. Brady praised the Tribunal for the transparency of its process and its careful attention to conducting hearings that are fair and sensitive to the needs of the parties, specifically noting the Tribunal's clear practice directions, easily accessible database of case law and library of expert medical papers. Mr. Brady also commented on the Tribunal's continued history of outreach, particularly its significant presence and leadership at the Ontario Bar Association. Mr. Brady praised the Tribunal as an administrative success story; engendering trust, possessing credibility, and engaging both workers and employers.

Suzanne Dajczak, Worker Counsel, stated that over the past 25 years the Tribunal has breathed life and given meaning to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act and WSIB policy for injured workers. Praising the Tribunal as "second to none" in terms of accessibility, fairness and independence, Ms. Dajczak attributed that the Tribunal's well-reasoned, consistent and balanced decisions were due in part to the tripartite panel compositions, and in part to the knowledgeable and dedicated Vice-Chairs, Members and staff. Ms. Dajczak also commented that with the injured workers of today facing increasingly complex issues both medically and legally, the opportunity for a de novo hearing and the role of the Tribunal are more important than ever before.

The second panel, moderated by Dan Revington, General Counsel to the Tribunal, consisted of the Honourable Justice John Laskin of the Ontario Court of Appeal, the Honourable Justice John Murray of the Ontario Superior Court and Professor Emeritus David Mullan. They considered the topic of "Delivering Administrative Justice."

Justice John Laskin, Ontario Court of Appeal, recognized WSIAT as one of the most important administrative tribunals in Ontario and commented on the Tribunal's good fortune to have enjoyed such strong leadership from the former Chair Ron Ellis and current Chair Ian Strachan. Justice Laskin highlighted the Tribunal's near impeccable record with the Divisional Court and how their decisions have been consistently upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal. He also discussed the importance of the Tribunal's duty to provide not only adequate reasons, but reasons for reasons, noting the thousands of workers affected by Tribunal decisions each year.

Justice John Murray, Ontario Superior Court, congratulated WSIAT on its success. He noted WSIAT's outstanding record on judicial review. He commented on the only decision where the courts had ever quashed a Tribunal decision, the surprising analysis applied in that decision, and the difficulties that created for WSIAT. Justice Murray also focused on the topic of access to justice and self-represented litigants; particularly the right to represent oneself, the right to equal access and the right to meaningful access. Justice Murray stated that the objective of adjudicators, especially in the context of self-represented individuals, is to create transparent and engaged neutrality. Justice Murray recognized that WSIAT has already achieved this objective in a number of ways, specifically in that procedures are simplified, there is accessible "do-ityourself" information and that an array of advisers is available to facilitate cases involving self-represented individuals.

David Mullan, Professor Emeritus from Queen's University Law School and one of the foremost experts on Canadian Administrative Law, delivered a paper he had prepared for the WSIAT Symposium. In his presentation, Professor Mullan described consistent decision-making as a core value for high-volume jurisdiction tribunals and agencies, highlighting the importance of precedent and stare decisis in the tribunal context. Professor Mullan recognized WSIAT's highly regarded reputation for predictability and consistency in decision-making, specifically citing Decision No. 795/94, which he stated demonstrated the Tribunal's awareness of how issues of precedent and stare decisis should be addressed. Professor Mullan commented that WSIAT has already successfully employed a number of internal techniques which help administrative tribunals to ensure consistency in their decisions, including continuing education for adjudicators, the designation of certain decisions as key precedents and the use of tripartite panels for matters where issues of particular significance seem likely to arise.

The third panel, moderated by John Slinger, WSIB Chief Operating Officer, consisted of two well-known management and labour advocates, Steve Roberts and Sid Ryan. They discussed the topic "Why the Tribunal Matters."

Steve Roberts, partner at McTague Law Firm LLP, recognized that the Tribunal "cares about getting it right and they have cared about getting it right for 25 years." In measuring the success of the Tribunal, Mr. Roberts praised the accessibility of the Tribunal's appeal system and its superior, quality service to employers, workers and other stakeholders. Mr. Roberts also spoke highly of the Tribunal's website, commenting that it "provides a plethora of information" not just on Tribunal processes, but also on Tribunal case law, noteworthy decisions and up-to-date medical discussion papers about issues relevant to workers' compensation law. Mr. Roberts commended the Tribunal's excellent work and noted that employers have not taken full advantage of the opportunities that are available through the Tribunal.

Sid Ryan, President of the Ontario Federation of Labour, voiced his pride in the tremendous success of the Tribunal over the years, as well as the various agencies dedicated to
making the workplace safety and insurance system work. Mr. Ryan expressed his belief that the Tribunal "is part of a system which is very much worth protecting and one that
could work across Canada." Mr. Ryan described the Tribunal as a fair, open and transparent system, free from the interference of politicalization and ideology, which has the confidence of both the labour and employer communities. While urging the Tribunal to restrict the number of written hearings and increase the number of full panel hearings, Mr. Ryan mentioned his appreciation for the dedication of the Tribunal Vice-Chairs and the value of tripartite Panels of adjudicators in ensuring fair and consistent decision-making.

Following the panels' presentations, Ian Strachan, Tribunal Chair, thanked the speakers and symposium guests, inviting everyone to stay for the reception afterward.

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