The COVID-19 virus has led to changes and challenges across sectors, and the civil litigation space is no different.
On March 15, 2020, the Honourable Geoffrey Morawetz, Chief Justice of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, issued a Notice to the Profession advising that the Superior Court will be suspending all regular operations, effective March 17, 2020, until further notice in order to help contain the spread of COVID-19. This direction applies to all Superior Court locations across the province.
The courthouses currently remain open for filing court documents. However, all criminal, family and civil matters to be heard on or after March 17, 2020 are adjourned. The Superior Court will remain open to hear only urgent and emergency civil and family matters, including matters related to public health and safety and COVID-19. With respect to general civil litigation matters in Toronto, the Court will hear only “urgent and time-sensitive motions and applications in civil and commercial list matters, where immediate and significant financial repercussions may result if there is no judicial hearing.”
Similarly, on March 16, 2020, the Small Claims Court advised that, effective that day, all sittings are suspended until further notice. It is unclear at this time when the Small Claims and Superior Courts will resume regular operations or when adjourned matters will be rescheduled.
The Court of Appeal for Ontario advised that it is suspending all scheduled appeals as of March 17, 2020, with operations currently set to resume on April 3, 2020. During the period of suspension, urgent appeals will be heard remotely or based on written materials only.
In light of the Court closures and the challenges posed more generally by COVID-19, the government and the Law Society of Ontario have moved to address practical challenges.
On March 20, 2020, the Lieutenant Governor in Council made an Order under section 7.1 of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act suspending all limitation periods made under a statute, regulation, rule, by-law or Order of the Government. The suspension is retroactive to March 16, 2020 and in effect “for the duration of the emergency.”
One of the most wide-reaching limitation periods, known as the “basic limitation period” under section 4 of the Ontario Limitations Act, provides that a civil claim must be commenced within two years of the day on which the claim was discovered. Claims not issued within the basic limitation period are statute barred from proceeding. The Lieutenant Governor’s Order suspends this basic limitation period as of March 16, 2020 until further notice.
In addition, the Law Society of Ontario has advised that, as a result of COVID-19, lawyers and paralegals are permitted to commission affidavits by videoconference rather than in person.
Miller Thomson’s litigators are closely monitoring the changing state of the Courts, Administrative Tribunals and legislation across the province and are able to assist with any litigation issues that may arise in this challenging period.