Please see our updated version of this article, published May 28, 2020.

An Update on the Response from Canadian Courts to COVID-19

We are now more than a month in to social distancing measures, and it is time for an update on the status of the courts across Canada. As with the rest of us, the courts across Canada continue to take steps to combat the spread of COVID-19, but are also moving forward with certain matters, while maintaining safe practices.

We will continue to provide updates as matters progress. Please feel free to reach out to our litigation team with any questions you may have.

Federal

On April 4, the Federal Court provided an updated Practice Direction, effective March 17 until May 15, 2020 (the “Suspension Period”):

  • Hearings:
    • Postponed, except for urgent or exceptional situations.
    • On request of the parties, court may, at its discretion, hear non-urgent matters.
    • Case management hearings will continue as long as the case is urgent, subject to a fixed hearing date or subject to a statutory deadline, or all parties consent.
    • Hearings will take place by teleconference, video conference, or in writing, unless the court determines an in-person hearing is required.
  • General Sittings:
    • Cancelled. Parties are responsible for contacting the Court to request that their matters be placed upon a General Sittings list once the Suspension Period is lifted and General Sittings have resumed.
  • Timelines under Orders and Directions:
    • Suspended until after the Suspension Period, except for Orders or Directions issued during the Suspension Period.
  • Filing Deadlines:
    • Not suspended. Parties are encouraged to use the Federal Court’s E-filing portal, and are exempted from any requirement to file paper copies. Parties unable to meet filing deadlines due to current circumstances will be able to request an extension of time after the Suspension Period.
    • The Court will maintain skeleton staff only during the Suspension Period and will not be monitoring registry counters. Parties wishing to file paper copies of documents are asked to telephone.

On April 15, the Federal Court of Appeal provided an update, stating it was reviewing the case list and prioritizing hearings based on “the nature of the case, the complexity of the case, the extent to which the record is or can be made electronic, and the ongoing resource challenges facing the Registry”. Matters proceeding are currently only being heard in writing, telephone or video conference. Most deadlines have been suspended until May 15.

Ontario

On April 2, the Ontario Superior Court provided an update to be read in conjunction with an earlier Notice to the Profession issued on March 15, effective April 6, 2020 until further notice:

  • Hearings:
    • Generally postponed, except for urgent matters.
    • Urgent matters include urgent family and child protection matters, urgent and time sensitive civil and commercial matters, and matters related to public health and safety and COVID-19). The March 15 notice identifies a process for bringing such matters before the court.
    • Certain courts are hearing certain non-urgent matters.
    • For instance, the court in Toronto will hear certain pre-trial conferences, applications, motions, case management conferences, and settlement conferences. The April 2 update identifies which courts are hearing what types of matters and the process for bringing such matters before the court.
    • All matters are being heard remotely by way of telephone or video conference. The court may allow in-person hearings in “facilities that are deemed safe”.
  • Filing:
    • Courthouses remain open, however parties are discouraged from physical attendance for filing.
    • For urgent matters, the court is accepting fillings by email at specific email addresses for each region, as indicated in the March 15 notice.
    • For non-urgent matters, parties are asked to file through the appropriate online portal, as indicated in the April 2 update.
  • Limitation Periods:
    • Limitation periods for matters to be commenced in Ontario courts, tribunals and decision-makers have been suspended by Emergency Order for as long as the Province’s state of emergency remains in effect.

On April 6, the Ontario Court of Appeal published a practice direction governing how urgent and non-urgent matters are heard. The court is primarily hearing urgent matters, with non-urgent matters being restricted to those appeals that have been newly perfected or were adjourned as a result of the pandemic measures. Hearings are only being heard remotely, by telephone or video appearances through “Court Call”, or in writing.

British Columbia

On April 16, the British Columbia Supreme Court issued an updated Notice to the Profession, effective March 19 until May 29, 2020 (the “Suspension Period”):

  • Hearings:
    • Postponed, except for essential and urgent matters.
    • Essential and urgent civil matters include civil restraining orders, preservation orders, and urgent injunctions, and certain insolvency matters. The notice identifies a procedure for requesting a hearing of an essential and urgent matter.
    • Telephone conference hearings will be available for non-urgent matters that were scheduled for hearing during the Suspension Period. Limitations on the availability of telephone conference hearings are set out in a separate notice.
    • Civil desk order applications are also being processed for consent applications and certain other matters, as detailed in this notice.
    • Hearings are generally proceeding by telephone or video conference. In-person hearings are available subject to modified procedures in certain locations.
  • Filing:
    • Deadlines under the Supreme Court Civil Rules are suspended until May 29, 2020.
    • Courthouses remain open, however parties are asked to e-file, fax file to designated registries, by mail or by contactless secure drop boxes.
  • Limitation Periods:
    • Limitation periods to commence court proceedings, except for matters under the Builders Lien Act and Strata Property Act, have been suspended by Ministerial Order for as long as the Province’s state of emergency remains in effect.
    • Limitation periods for matters proceeding before administrative decision-makers are in effect, subject to the decision-maker’s discretion.

On April 20, the British Columbia Court of Appeal issued an updated Notice to the Public. The Court will be accepting filings for all matters and begin hearing all appeals and chambers applications starting May 4, 2020. Service and filing deadlines are suspended until June 1, 2020, except for matters proceeding.

Appeal hearings will proceed by videoconference using the Zoom platform and chambers matters will proceed by teleconference, unless otherwise directed. By consent of all parties, appeals and chambers matters may be adjudicated in writing.

Quebec

On April 22, 2020, the declaration of a state of health emergency was extended until April 29, 2020 by the order in council no. 478-2020.  As a result and in accordance with the ministerial order number 2020-4521 issued on March 15, 2020 by the Chief Justice of Quebec and the Minister of Justice, civil procedure time limits are suspended throughout the entire duration of the health emergency.

  • Hearings:
    • Postponed and Quebec courts will only hear urgent matters.
    • These matters include urgent criminal, family and child protection matters, as well as urgent and time sensitive civil and commercial litigation matters such as:
      • applications for provisional injunctions and safeguard orders;
      • applications for seizures before judgment;
      • applications for eviction orders; and
      • orders for release from seizure, annulment of seizures before judgment, and contested eviction orders.
    • All urgent hearings would be held in camera and only the persons whose presence is considered necessary for the purpose of the hearing by the decision maker will be allowed to attend.
    • The courts will try to use telephone and video conferencing as much as possible.
  • Limitation Periods and Filing Deadlines:
    • Until the current state of public health emergency is over, all limitation periods, all periods of possible forfeiture of rights, and all time limits under the Civil Code of Procedure are suspended.
    • Deadlines to file a lawsuit have been suspended until further notice and as a result, the days following the issuance of the Ministerial Order are not to be included in the calculation of the deadline to file a lawsuit.
  • Expansion of Quebec’s courts activities:
    • On April 15, 2020, the Quebec Court of Appeal started offering parties and counsel the possibility of presenting their motions before a judge alone by way of videoconference, in a “virtual courtroom”. This approach will, save for certain exceptions, make it possible to deal with most motions that fall within the jurisdiction of the Court’s judges sitting alone, in all matters and no longer in only urgent ones.
    • On April 17, 2020, the Montreal Division of the Superior Court of Quebec issued a Communique announcing that it would be able to expand its operation starting May 4, 2020 and attached an amended list of urgent matters in civil and family matters that can be heard before the Superior Court.
    • On April 24, 2020, the Quebec Division of the Superior Court of Quebec issued a Communique indicating that it had to reduce its regular activities until July 3, 2020 and provided all the necessary information on how urgent and specific non-urgent matters would be heard. This Communique will be updated weekly by the Court.