Section 4: Public access to family court files
4.1 Courts of Justice Act provisions for public access
Section 137 of the Courts of Justice Act (CJA) provides for public access to family court documents.
Members of the public are entitled to see any current list maintained by the court of family cases started, any documents filed in a family case, or any orders signed, unless a statutory provision, common law rule or court order restricts access.
4.2 Statutory restrictions to public access
Statutory provisions restrict public access to the following family court documents:
4.2.1 Child protection cases
Under subsections 87(4) and 121(8) of the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017 (CYFSA), child protection hearings and appeals of child protection decisions are closed to the public, unless otherwise ordered by the court. Under subsections 87(5) and 121(8) of the Act, select representatives of the media may attend the hearings, unless the court makes an order excluding them. Subsection 87(8) of the Act prohibits the publication of any identifying information about a child, child’s parent or foster parent or a member of the child’s family in a child protection case.
Court staff are therefore not permitted to provide public or media access to court documents filed in child protection cases, including any warrant issued under the CYFSA, even to media representatives who attended the hearing.
4.2.2 Secure treatment cases
Secure treatment cases involve applications to the court to commit a child to a secure treatment program. Under subsection 161(7) of the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017 (CYFSA), secure treatment hearings are closed to both the public and the media. Court staff are not permitted to provide access to court documents filed in these cases, including any warrant issued under the CYFSA.
4.2.3 Adoption cases and openness orders
Under subsections 204(1) and 215(6) of the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017 (CYFSA), adoption hearings and appeals of adoptions orders are closed to the public. Subsection 204(2) of the CYFSA states that court files concerning applications for adoption are only accessible to:
- the court;
- court employees;
- the parties and their lawyers or agents; and
- the Director or local director (appointed pursuant to subsection 53(1) of the CYFSA) or children’s aid society under the CYFSA.
The files are not accessible to the public, including members of the media.
Under subsection 222(2) of the CYFSA, the documents used in an application for an adoption order must be sealed with a certified copy of the original order placed within the sealed file. The sealed file can only be accessed through an order of the court or written direction of the Registrar of Adoption Information.
4.2.4 Proceedings under the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act, 1996
The Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act, 1996, applies to cases involving the enforcement of support obligations in Ontario.
During a default hearing under the Act, the court may order a person who is ‘financially connected’ to the payor to file a financial statement and any other relevant documents with the court. Under subsection 41(24) of the Act, the person’s financial statement or other documents must be sealed in an envelope in the court file and is only accessible through an order of the court.
Under section 54 of the Act, if a person needs information from another person or organization to enforce an order that is not filed with the Family Responsibility Office, the court can order that the requested information be provided to the court. The information that is obtained under this order must be sealed in an envelope in the court file. It is only accessible by court order, or in the other circumstances described in the Act at section 54.
4.3 Files and documents under publication bans
In family cases, other than cases under the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017 (CYFSA), when a publication ban is imposed by the court, the public can generally still access the court file and documents. Staff must notify the recipient that the file or document is under a publication ban and must warn him or her that publication could be a violation of law.
4.4 Sealed files and documents
A sealing order typically provides the date the file was sealed and the name of the judicial official who sealed the documents, but it does not disclose information about the content of the sealed documents. Assuming that is the case, the sealing order is accessible unless otherwise ordered by a judicial official. However, if the sealing order contains confidential information that is under seal, judicial permission is required for access.
4.5 Index books
Family index books contain lists of court file numbers and names of the applicants and respondents. In family cases, other than, adoption, child protection and openness order cases, information in index books is publicly available at no charge.
4.6 Case event lists and post-court dockets
The Daily Court Lists provide users with basic next day case event information for Ontario Court of Justice and Superior Court of Justice cases, subject to certain restrictions. Website users may choose a court location and case type from drop down lists. A list of scheduled matters to be heard the next day at that location will then be displayed.
Hearing lists of the Ontario Court of Appeal are also available the week before matters are to be heard.
Subject to orders of the court and the statutory restrictions outlined in section “Statutory restrictions to public access”, the case event lists and post-court dockets are public documents and may be viewed at no charge. A copy of the list or docket can be provided to members of the public, upon payment of the relevant copy fee.
Note: Due to storage limitations in the court office, some older case event lists and post- court dockets may not be immediately available at the court counter. The time required to access older lists and dockets that are not stored in the court office might be longer.
4.7 Other Documents Related to Family Cases
Other documents may be contained in the court file, even though they have not been filed in the case within the meaning of s. 137 of the Courts of Justice Act. Because section 137 does not apply to these documents, they are not automatically publicly accessible. Some examples of these documents include:
- correspondence between the trial coordinator and the parties to canvass available dates for events;
- correspondence between the court office and an individual regarding fees paid to court (for example, regarding an NSF cheque)
- correspondence between the court office and an institution/agency (for example, police, Family Responsibility Office, Registrar General) necessary for the institution/agency to enforce or register an order; and
- fee waiver information.
These documents must be filed in the correspondence pocket within the court file. Court staff must remove the correspondence pocket from the file before providing the file to a member of the public for inspection.