Ontario is toughening the rules regulating the province’s unlicensed daycares, giving inspectors the power to “immediately” shut down unsafe locations, as well as to lay heavy fines.

The proposed legislation -- unveiled Tuesday -- seeks to update the current rules, which were first introduced in 1946.

“The legislation that regulates the childcare sector hasn’t changed fundamentally since the 1980s,”said Education Minister Liz Sandals.

If passed, the Child Care Modernization Act would give the province the power to immediately close down a facility if a child’s safety is deemed at risk. It would also allow inspectors to impose administrative penalties of up to $100,000 per infraction when the rules are broken.

It also seeks to:

  • Increase the maximum penalty for illegal offences to $250,000 from the current $2,000;
  • Clarify what programs/activities are exempt from licensing requirements (such as care provided by relatives, nannies, babysitters, gyms and camps);
  • Require that all private schools caring for more than five children under the age of four be licensed;
  • Amend the Education Act to ensure school boards can offer before-and-after programs for kids aged 6-12 wherever there is “sufficient” demand.

The act further increases the number of children a licensed, home-based provider is permitted, from five to six -- a move aimed at encouraging the licensing of non-registered facilities.

“When parents drop their children off for childcare, they want to know they’re in a safe nurturing environment, regardless of whether they are in licensed or unlicensed care,” Sandals said in a statement.

“They also need to know that the government will be able to intervene when a child’s safety is at risk. That is exactly what this legislation provides.”

The proposed legislation comes on the heels of the deaths of three young children in unlicensed facilities over the past few months.

The parents of one of those children, Eva Ravikovich, have launched a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the province and the Vaughan-based daycare where the toddler died.

Twenty-one-month-old Eva was pronounced dead in July after police arrived to a home-based daycare. The care provider was illegally looking after 27 children at the time.

It was later revealed that the Education Ministry failed to follow up on at least four complaints against the facility.

Two employees were suspended as a result, and Ontario’s ombudsman has launched an investigation into the handling of the matter.

The Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care on Tuesday welcomed news of the proposed legislation.

“It’s still a complaint-driven system and we’d like to see every provider who does this for money licenced. But this is a much tougher atmosphere for unlicensed childcare and they’re going to need to follow the rules,” said OCBCC coordinator Andrea Calver.