Queen's Park revealed a package of changes to legislation aimed at improving the safety of women and children in Ontario.

The changes affect everything from custody agreements to restraining orders.

Chris Bentley, Ontario's attorney general, said many mistakes have been made by the judicial system.

"We have seen some terrible tragedies," he said. "We're going to fix the system."

He referred to the heartbreaking story of Katelynn Sampson, a seven-year-old girl murdered on August 3. Her legal guardian Donna Irving and her common-law husband Warren Johnson have been charged in connection with the death.

The couple had a criminal record when they were given custody of Katelynn but a background check was never ordered. A complaint has been filed with the Ontario Judicial Council against the judge presiding over the case.

Bentley said that can't be allowed to happen again.

"At the moment there is not a requirement for a lot of information," he said.

Now, a new law will require:

  • criminal background checks for anyone filing for legal custody of a child
  • applicants will have to provide a plan showing how they will care for the child
  • family court files will be accessible to judges
  • Children's Aid will have to vouch for non-parents seeking custody

"We want to be sure when judges are being asked to make this very important order that that judge has before him or her relevant information that will affect the future of the child," said Bentley.

Currently, applicants simply have to fill out a form. Non-relatives make up about 10 per cent of 14,000 custody applications filed each year.

Bentley also announced Monday that the law will get tougher on people who violate restraining orders.

A violation against the order will result in charges under the criminal code. Bentley said that will allow prosecutors to seek stricter bail conditions.

The changes also touch on child support. New legislation would require an automatic annual financial disclosure to ensure a fair sum is being paid.

"What these proposed reforms do is make it safer for women and their children when women decide to leave their abusive partners," said Deb Matthews, minister of children and youth services.

With a report from CTV Toronto's Paul Bliss