The impact of COVID-19 is changing the landscape of the legal industry in Alberta on a daily basis. Each level of court in Alberta is continuing to announce additional restrictions on their function to combat the spread of the pandemic.
On March 17, 2020, the Lieutenant Governor in Council made Order in Counsel 080/2020 (the “Order in Counsel”) under section 52.1(1) of the Public Health Act declaring a state of public health emergency in Alberta for a period of 90 days.
On March 30, 2020, the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General made Ministerial Order 27/2020 (the “Ministerial Order”) suspending limitation periods under a number of statutes, including the Limitations Act, until June 1, 2020. The Minister made the Ministerial Order under s. 52.1(3) of Public Health Act, which authorizes ministers to make orders without consultation to suspend or modify the application or operation of an enactment in order to protect the public interest. The Ministerial Order is retroactive to March 17, 2020.
The Ministerial Order establishes:
- Limitation periods are suspended in the enactments under Appendix A from March 17, 2020 to June 1, 2020.
- Any period of time within which any step must be taken in any proceeding or intended proceeding is suspended subject to the discretion of the court, tribunal, or other decision-maker from March 17, 2020 to June 1, 2020.
- For clarity, the limitation period or period of time resumes running on June 1, 2020 and the temporary suspension period shall not be counted.
The Ministerial Order lapses the earlier of June 1, 2020, 60 days after the Order in Counsel expires, or the Ministerial Order is terminated by the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General or by the Lieutenant Governor in Council.
The Ministerial Order does not suspend limitation periods in all legislation in Alberta. Appendix I to the Ministerial Order provides an exhaustive schedule of the legislation to which the Order applies. For example, the Builders’ Lien Act is excluded from the schedule. The Limitations Act, however, is included in the list. The Limitations Act sets a two year limitation period for most civil claims in Alberta. The practical effect of the Ministerial Order is that limitation periods that are set to expire sometime after March 17, 2020, are extended by approximately 2.5 months.
There is some ambiguity with regard to procedural deadlines under the legislation set out in the schedule as these appear to be subject to the discretion of the court, tribunals, or other decision-makers. It remains to be seen how this provision of the Ministerial Order will be interpreted.
The complete Ministerial Order, along with the schedule of legislation to which the Ministerial Order applies, may be viewed here.
We continue to closely monitor the progressing COVID-19 situation and will provide updates as they are available.