Impact of COVID-19 on the Courts in Ontario

The situation regarding COVID-19 is changing rapidly, this post is current as of March 22, 2020.

 

All of our courts and tribunals in Ontario are taking precautions to slow the spread of COVID-19 by taking exceptional measures to suspend regular services and deadlines. The situation is changing quickly.

 

Superior Court of Justice (SCJ)

The SCJ suspended all regular operations, effective Tuesday, March 17, 2020, and until further notice. All criminal, family and civil matters, including teleconferences, scheduled to be heard on or after Tuesday March 17, 2020 are adjourned, that is, not proceeding on the scheduled date. For civil matters, the SCJ is creating a special Return to Operations (RO) Scheduling Court for any matters for which the parties cannot agree to a new hearing date. Parties and counsel are expected to cooperate in rescheduling matters. The SCJ will still be hearing urgent matters and has created a special procedure for assessing requests for urgent matters.

The SCJ continues to remain open for the purpose of filing documents with the SCJ. If the situation changes and the SCJ stops being able to accept documents for filing, then plaintiffs can still have claims for new matters issued electronically.

We note that the presiding judicial officer retains the discretion to direct certain matters to continue.  Judges have used this discretion to permit matters that are mid-hearing to be concluded.

The Commercial List has issued a document that provides guidance on Commercial List practice during the suspension of regular operations. The judges of the Commercial List will continue to hear and decide urgent and time sensitive matters by teleconference during the COVID-19 pandemic. The court will also hear appropriate time sensitive matters in writing and encourages the use of this process in appropriate cases. The Commercial List scheduling office will continue to operate during the closure.

To read more, visit the SCJ website: https://www.ontariocourts.ca/scj/covid-19-suspension-fam/ and for the Commercial List, see https://commerciallist.com/pdf/changes-to-commercial-list-operations-in-light-of-covid-19.pdf

  

Suspension of Ontario Limitation Periods and Deadlines

On March 20, 2020, the Government of Ontario filed an Order made under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act that suspends limitation periods and deadlines under provincial statutes and regulations. The suspension is retroactive to Monday March 16, 2020 and continues for the duration of the emergency.

The first part of the Order suspends “any provision of any statute, regulation, rule, by-law or order of the Government of Ontario establishing any limitation period.” A limitation period is the deadline by which a proceeding must be commenced. For example, though there are exceptions, the basic limitation period under section 4 of the Limitations Act, 2002, provides that a proceeding cannot be commenced more than two years after a claim was discovered. By suspending limitation periods, the Order creates a period of time in which limitation periods do not run thereby extending all limitation periods by the length of time in which the Order remains in place.

The second part of the Order suspends deadlines imposed by “any provision of any statute, regulation, rule, by-law or order of the Government of Ontario establishing any period of time within which any step must be taken in any proceedings in Ontario, including any intended proceeding.” With the suspension, the time in which the Order remains in place will not count when determining such deadlines.

The suspension of deadlines under the second part of the Order is subject to the discretion of the Court. The Court needs this discretion to ensure that any deadlines set in urgent, time sensitive or other matters that are heard during the suspension of regular court services will continue to apply.

For a copy of the Order see: https://www.oba.org/getmedia/31b388c7-2b5b-4193-b338-52d573c0c2aa/EMCPA-Order-eng-fr

 

Residential Evictions Suspended in Ontario

On Thursday, March 19, 2020, Chief Justice Morawetz granted an Order suspending evictions of residents from their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. More specifically, during the suspension of regular court operations, the eviction of residents from their homes, pursuant to eviction orders issued by the Landlord and Tenant Board or writs of possession, are suspended. The court retains the discretion to enforce an eviction, but only if the party seeking to enforce the eviction can obtain leave pursuant to the court’s procedures for urgent motions.

We note that this Order applies only to residential evictions and not to commercial properties.

For a copy of the Order see: https://www.ontariocourts.ca/scj/chief-justice-court-order-susp-resid-evict/

 

Federal Court of Canada (FCC)

The FCC has extended its suspension period to include all hearings between now and April 17, 2020 (Suspension Period). All General Sittings are cancelled and matters scheduled to be heard at General Sittings have been automatically moved to the next General Sitting. All trials and hearings, including hearings by way of teleconference, scheduled during the Suspension Period are adjourned sine die, that is, rescheduled to non-specific dates. The FCC will work with parties to reschedule these matters.

Urgent matters will continue to be heard. There is also an exception for matters that need to proceed as previously scheduled for exceptional reasons. The Court will determine what constitutes “urgent” and “exceptional” on a case-by-case basis.

The running of all timelines under Orders and Directions of the Court made prior to March 18, 2020, as well as under the Federal Courts Rules, subsection 18.1(2) of the Federal Courts Act and paragraph 72(2)(c) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, is being suspended for the Suspension Period. Statutory filing deadlines continue to apply, but parties who are unable to meet deadlines will be able to request extensions of time after the Suspension Period.

Parties are encouraged to file documents electronically during the Suspension Period.

To read more, visit the FCC website: https://www.fct-cf.gc.ca/content/assets/pdf/base/MESSAGE_FROM_THE_FEDERAL_COURT_IN_RESPONSE_TO_COVID_E.pdf and https://www.fct-cf.gc.ca/content/assets/pdf/base/Covid-19%20Practice%20Direction%20and%20Order_FINAL%202020-03-17%20(for%20release).pdf

 

Other Courts and Tribunals

Other courts and tribunals are taking similar measures. We will be continuing to monitor the situation as it evolves.