ODR: An Environmental Alternative

Four ways the CRT is doing more, by doing less


ODR: An Environmental Alternative

"We’re in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyone’s arguing over where they’re going to sit.” David Suzuki’s words aren’t a comment on the state of our justice system, but they are a plea to get on with acting to save our planet. And the BC Civil Resolution Tribunal (“CRT”) is doing just that.

In the three years since its inception, the CRT has helped British Columbians to resolve almost 10,000 strata property and small claims disputes. The CRT’s online dispute resolution (“ODR”) model, fully integrated into the public justice system, has caught international attention. This isn’t surprising – the CRT is expanding access to justice, making efficient use of public resources, and at the same time, helping to reduce the justice system’s environmental impact. Here are four ways ODR is better for the environment than the traditional justice system.

1. Less Travel

Is access to justice a service, or a place? The traditional court model requires judges, lawyers, clerks, sheriffs and litigants to all congregate at physical court locations, often for multiple days. In contrast, the CRT is based online. It has no locations that a party has to attend, and 50% of CRT employees work from home. In 2016, transportation accounted for 28.3% of Canada’s greenhouse emissions. The CRT also makes it possible for people to get in-person help at one of 62 pre-existing Service BC locations, without having to travel far from their homes. 

2. Less Pollution

The average passenger vehicle emits about 404 grams of CO2 per mile, and people who work in offices use coffee cups, take-out food containers, plastic cups and straws, which end up in landfills. The CRT currently has 13 full-time tribunal members and approximately 20 staff who work entirely remotely. The number of tribunal members is expected to grow to 85 over the next two years. ODR allows parties and staff to access the CRT from wherever they like. By working from home, the amount of plastic waste generated by staff is significantly decreased.

3. Less Energy 

BC has 44 full-time and 44 part-time Provincial Court locations. Naturally, it takes a lot of energy to power and heat these buildings. The CRT has one modest office in Victoria, and its two employees in Vancouver share office space with other tribunals. Since the CRT took jurisdiction over small claims disputes under $5,000, it has diverted approximately 30% of the Provincial Court small claims caseload – about 9500 disputes since 2017.1 And it’s handling these disputes at a fraction of the energy usage. 

4. Less Paper

CRT disputes are almost entirely paper free. The CRT accommodates people who prefer to use paper, but under 1% of CRT participants have chosen to participate in the CRT process through paper. Most parties file their initiating documents online, and upload their evidence and submissions into the CRT’s cloud-based portal. In some disputes, this can be hundreds of pages of evidence and submissions that are not printed. Compare this to the traditional justice system which requires multiple copies of each document to be printed.

The CRT model is sustainable in more ways than one. Not only is it better for the environment, but it is a world leader in delivering efficient, affordable, and accessible access to justice.

1 This is partially offset by an estimated 1,700 CRT orders filed with the Provincial Court for enforcement. |