Update – Response from Canadian Courts to COVID-19

As many Canadian jurisdictions begin to relax certain social distancing measures, 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 29, the Federal Court provided an updated Practice Direction, effective March 17 until May 29, 2020 (the “Suspension Period”):

  • Hearings:
    • Postponed until June 29, 2020, except for urgent or exceptional matters.
    • At request of a party, court may, at its discretion, hear non-urgent matters.
    • The Court has also identified a number of matters ready to proceed and will, at its own initiative, be reaching out to parties to schedule those matters by video or teleconference.
    • Case management hearings will continue as the Court considers appropriate.
    • Parties are encouraged to proceed in writing by sending a request to the Register though the Court’s E-filing portal.
    • Hearings will likely take place by teleconference or video conference over Zoom, but the court will consider whether an in-person hearing is possible, if required, based in part on the restrictions in place in the area in question.
  • General Sittings:
    • Cancelled until June 28, 2020. 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:
    • Suspended until June 12, 2020, except for Orders or Directions issued during the Suspension Period.
    • Parties are encouraged to use the Court’s E-filing portal, and are exempted from any requirement to file paper copies.
    • 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 call.

On May 12, 2020, the Federal Court of Appeal extended its suspension period until May 29, 2020. The notice of April 15, 2020 remains in effect. The Court is continuing to review its case list and is 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.

Ontario

On May 13, 2020, the Ontario Superior Court issued a consolidated notice, effective May 19, 2020:

  • Hearings:
    • Court will not resume in-person judge alone trials or other in-person appearances until July 6, 2020, at the earliest, with the expectation that no jury trials will proceed until September 2020, at the earliest.
    • Matters remain 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.
    • Courts are hearing certain non-urgent matters; scope of non-urgent matters varies by region.
    • For instance, the court in Toronto is remotely hearing certain pre-trial conferences, applications (in writing), and other chambers appointments and case conferences.
    • The Divisional Court is scheduling matters at its discretion for hearings by teleconference or videoconference on the Zoom platform.
  • Filing:
    • Parties are encourage to file only brief materials, and where possible link to caselaw and other source materials rather than file a Book of Authorities.
    • For urgent matters, the court is accepting fillings by email at specific email addresses for each region.
    • For non-urgent matters, parties are asked to file through the appropriate online portal.
  • 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, 2020, the Ontario Court of Appeal published a practice direction governing how urgent and non-urgent civil 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. Its FAQs were most recently updated on May 26, 2020.

British Columbia

On May 21, 2020, the British Columbia Supreme Court issued an updated Notice to the Profession, announcing the resumption of operations in relation to civil and family matters:

  • Hearings:
    • All civil and family trials scheduled to begin on or after June 8, 2020 will resume, unless otherwise directed by the Court (except for civil jury trials which are cancelled up to September 7, 2020).
    • Trial Management Conferences are also resuming.
    • All other matters remain postponed, except for essential and urgent civil and family and insolvency
    • Telephone conference hearings are available for non-urgent matters that were scheduled for hearing between March 19 and May 29, 2020.
    • Desk order applications are being processed for consent applications.
    • Parties can also bring an application by written submissions, however written hearings are restricted to the resolution of one disputed issue that can be addressed on the basis of one affidavit filed by party, no more than 10 pages in length, inclusive of exhibits.
    • 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 will start running again on May 29, 2020.
    • Courthouses remain open, however parties are strongly encouraged to e-file, but may also fax file to designated registries, file by mail or file through contactless secure drop boxes.
    • As of May 26, 2020 parties not appearing in person will be required to file affidavits of service or delivery with the Court.
  • 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.

As of May 4, 2020, the British Columbia Court of Appeal has been accepting filings for all matters and begin hearing all appeals and chambers applications and proceeding with all hearings.  Service and filing deadlines are suspended until June 15, 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. Weekly hearing lists are being published with public links for hearings posted daily.

Quebec

On May 27, the declaration of a state of health emergency was extended until June 3, 2020 by the order in council no. 544-2020.  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 matters determined to be urgent or of priority.
    • 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.
      • any application considered to be urgent by the Commercial Division in matters which are tried before it, whether it be a restructuring, an arrangement, a proposal, a bankruptcy or other.
    • All urgent hearings will 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.
    • For any hearing that will take place, as far as possible, technological means will be preferred. It is the responsibility of lawyers or parties who wish to proceed in this way, to ensure that all contact information for counsel or parties is provided in advance. A virtual hearing system via WebRTC has been implemented by the Ministère de la Justice du Québec.

 

  • 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:
    • As of April 15, 2020, the Quebec Court of Appeal is 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.
    • Since May 25, 2020, the Quebec Court of Appeal has resumed hearing of appeals and motions presentable before a panel. These hearings are held by videoconference, in “virtual courtroom” mode (unless the matter is to proceed without a hearing).
    • Following its April 17, 2020 Communique, the Montreal Division of the Superior Court of Quebec expanded its operations on May 4, 2020 and provided a modified list of urgent matters in civil and family matters that can be heard before the Montreal Division of the Superior Court.
    • On May 22, 2020, the Quebec Division of the Superior Court of Quebec issued a Communique providing all the necessary information on how, until July 3, 2020, urgent and specific non-urgent matters would be heard. This Communique is updated weekly by the Court.