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Interview with Windsor Law Alumnus Ryan Fritsch, Law Commission of Ontario

Cindy Lui, 2L Windsor Law Student, LTEC Lab Researcher

January 22, 2024

Ryan Fritsch is legal counsel with the Law Commission of Ontario (LCO). Since 2016, he has led several reform projects ranging from human rights, technology law, administrative law, and health law in Ontario. Prior to his work with the LCO, he led Legal Aid Ontario’s Mental Health Strategy and was legal counsel to Ontario’s Psychiatric Advocate Office. Ryan graduated from the University of Windsor Faculty of Law in 2005.

You are legal counsel to Law Commission of Ontario, could you provide some more insight into your role and the projects you are currently working on and that are more specifically related to law and technology?

I’ve currently got two projects on the go, following LCO’s current mandate of investigating law reform in technology.

The first project looks at the impact of AI in the criminal justice system, not just specific issues like facial recognition technology or predictive policing, but looking at how it impacts the entire life cycle of AI through the justice system. The LCO has broken up the life cycle to look at the following: police use of AI; how the Crown interprets charges referred to by the police; the use of risk assessments for bail, sentencing and diversion; AI’s impact on appeals and trials; and institutional and systemic oversight of AI in the criminal justice system. Through these projects, we are hoping to identify whether the systems are well equipped to oversee the likely explosion of AI use, and what law or policy reforms may be needed. The LCO anticipates publishing our work and commencing consultations in the early summer.

A second project I’m leading is looking at consumer terms of service contracts, i.e., those rules and guidelines that are 4000 terms long that you have to click and agree to. Almost no one reads these things. So the question the LCO is looking at is does the Ontario Consumer Protection Act adequately protect individuals? Spoiler alert: no it does not. The Consumer Protection Act was last updated 20 years ago and barely takes into account that transactions happen over the internet. The LCO anticipated the introduction of a new Consumer Protection Act last fall fall. So we were heavily involved in the legislative debate. Several LCO recommendations are reflected in the new legislation. I also appeared for an hour at the Standing Committee on Justice Policy to provide evidence to the committee currently reviewing the Act and brought them 16 additional recommendations to improve the proposed bill and better ensure consumer rights. And when the legislation went to third reading, over an hour of time was dedicated to debating LCO recommendations.

What would you say is one of the most unique features of your position?

The LCO is unique and I am incredibly privileged to be a part of it. It is a neutral non-partisan non-governmental agency and is not tied to any particular issue or sector. So we develop law and policy reform projects based on input from anyone in Ontario. They help the LCO identify areas where the law is out of step with current practices or current debates. We take the time to research these issues, identify key questions for law reform, then lead province-wide consultations. We heavily focus on consensus-based recommendations for law reform. I also enjoy the interdisciplinary element of the LCO and technology law is a great example since we are not just looking at laws, but talk to developers and programmers to bring them into the conversation regarding AI’s use in the justice system. Another aspect of the LCO that is unique is its focus on access to justice, improving accessibility for people and ensuring the law is fair and balanced.

My time at the LCO has also provided me the opportunity to teach and mentor students. I used to teach Mental Health Law at Windsor Law as a Sessional Lecturer for about 10 years, and it was unique in preparing me for a career in access to justice. I also work with around 10 to 14 law students every summer with two to three students coming from Windsor Law. Windsor students have made significant contributions to LCO projects on consumer protection, criminal AI, and an earlier project that identifies ways to decolonize health law in Indigenous communities. We definitely could not do it without Windsor students since they bring passion to the projects and I am grateful to be working with such an amazing group.

What are some of the challenges you faced, and perhaps continue to face, in your role?

The biggest challenge is to make the reforms happen. We can write the best report and conduct the best research, but if there’s no uptake, the story never finishes. That’s the biggest challenge for anyone who wants to do law reform. We intentionally use a very participatory model for our projects. Which means we try to get as many people at the table such as stakeholders and major institutions as this will not only help with better understanding the issues, but will make it more likely that these groups take action. A great example of this is a project the LCO did with UWindsor’s Professor Jasminka Kalajdzic in 2020, looking to update the Class Proceedings Act. With stakeholders from all sides participating in the LCO’s project the government of the day eagerly enacted several of our recommendations. Our recent work on the Consumer Protection Act is another example. We consulted widely for months which helped us identify great recommendations you now see in the legislation, like the new “consumer discoverability principle” - a right of action or right to cancel the contract from the time you discover the term, rather than missing out because of a contractual limitation period. When we build consensus like that, recommendations stick.

What prompted or inspired you to pursue a career related to leading law reform projects?

It goes back to my undergrad years; I did an undergrad in political theory. I learned a lot about critical theory and came to understand how feminist theories, postcolonial theories, poststructuralist theories, and human rights play a role in the law. Law is a way to practically/meaningfully ameliorate some of the disadvantages in society.

I went to Windsor Law, and with the school’s focus on access to justice, I got into human rights law and did mental health advocacy. I then articled with the Pivot Legal Society in Vancouver Downtown Eastside, where I saw first-hand how law works to marginalize the most vulnerable, especially those with mental health issues. After moving to Toronto, I become in-house counsel to the Psychiatric Patient Advocate Office and later on developed Legal Aid Ontario’s Mental Health Strategy. These experiences led me to join the LCO to lead law reform.

LCO works in five-year plans so they were opening up suggestions for new projects. In 2015 and 2016, there was so much happening in the digital space and I did a lot of community consultations – including with law schools -- on where the LCO could make an impact on digital rights issues. This identified two main streams: 1) AI and its likely impact on civil administration and criminal law in Ontario and 2) consumer rights online and all consumer transactions taking place in the digital marketplace. These projects really came from the people of Ontario, and getting everyone together and consulting with them about these issues has been a rewarding experience.

I also noticed that you recently had a panel on ChatGPT and implications for the legal profession and access to justice. Could you share some of your findings?

People always say AI is going to have a profound impact on the law, but what do we mean by “the law?” Law is only accessible by 10 per cent of people who can pay access, or qualify for basic legal aid services. For the other 80 or even 90 per cent of people there’s no real practical access to the law. So AI has both considerable promises for access to justice and some troublesome aspects for access to justice. AI could be a huge help to self and unrepresented people to get information to their hands, and even prepare documents. However, AI is also not really tuned to rigorous and dependable level of advice and could seriously mislead litigants, as well as the court.

I think the first step to help with this issue is to include in the first-year law school curriculum a computational law or computational jurisprudence course which includes all this new stuff: how AI can analyze disclosure or draft a pleading, whether there is a role for AI in the courtroom, and AI’s relationship to procedural fairness. Law schools should also have an in-house AI scientist since legal work is going to be AI informed. At the University of Ottawa, they have someone like that to help build up tech competency as well as a chief statistician who plays with large language models. For now, I think generative AI needs to be labelled “not for professional use” and include disclaimers such as “do not wholly rely on it.”

What advice would you give to a law student looking to pursue a career in perhaps AI law, privacy law, and digital rights, particularly in your field?

Follow your passions. A lot of people worry about making money, but if you follow your passion and you are good at what you do, you’ll make it.

Any fun memories to share from your time at Windsor Law? Favourite thing to do?

I am originally from Vancouver and when I went to Windsor Law, I thought it was really interesting that most students were not from Windsor. The law school itself is marked by a great sense of community and I knew everybody in my year. Everyone was friendly and fun, and I had great debates with folks in my classes. There are so many overwhelming memories in terms of the sense of community. There is pretty good access to the professors as they had an open door policy where you could come in and chat, which I definitely took advantage of. I worked with three profs there and helped them publish papers as well. In terms of a specific memory, I was the co-publisher for four to five issues of Oyez. I also really enjoyed teaching the mental health law class for eight years and the students were incredible, as they were engaged and passionate about the material.


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