Ontario, like other provinces in Canada, declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 17, 2020, pursuant to section 7.0.1 of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (the “Act“). As a result of these declarations, drastic measures have been implemented across the country to flatten the curve of infection.
The legal community continues to feel the impact of such measures and is taking significant and unprecedented actions in response. For example, many provinces have now restricted the operation of the courts, automatically adjourned proceedings to be heard in March, April and May, and cancelled services requiring in-person attendance.
On March 20, 2020, Ontario made another significant Order under the Act in a further attempt to address the ripple effect of such drastic measures. Pursuant to subsection 7.1 (2) of the Act, Ontario has ordered the suspension of all limitation periods and procedural deadlines during the duration of the emergency (the “Order“).
Terms of the Order
The terms of the Order state:
- Any provision of any statute, regulation, rule, by-law or order of the Government of Ontario establishing any limitation period shall be suspended for the duration of the emergency, and the suspension shall be retroactive to Monday, March 16, 2020.
- 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 proceeding in Ontario, including any intended proceeding, shall, subject to the discretion of the court, tribunal or other decision-maker responsible for the proceeding, be suspended for the duration of the emergency, and the suspension shall be retroactive to Monday, March 16, 2020.
While paragraph 2 is subject to the discretion of the decision-maker responsible for the proceeding, the Order does not otherwise appear to be discretionary. Accordingly, parties ought to proceed on the basis that all limitation periods and procedural deadlines in Ontario are suspended as of March 16, 2020, unless the decision-maker orders otherwise.
Notably, there is no reference to the deadlines agreed to between parties. This suggests that, subject to further agreement between the parties about suspension, such deadlines continue to apply.
The period of time for any limitation period or procedural deadline stopped running as of March 16, 2020 and will not start again until the state of emergency is ended. This provides immediate relief to a party facing an expiring 2-year basic limitation period under the Limitations Act, 2002, S.O. 2002, c. 24.
The Order also provides respite for parties facing upcoming deadlines under the Rules of Civil Procedure and other legislative deadlines, unless the decision-maker orders otherwise. For example, if a party was served with a claim and the response is due after March 16, 2020, the 21-day period for providing the response in accordance with the Rules stopped running on March 16, 2020.
If the parties agreed to a deadline, however, the Order may not apply. Accordingly, parties should adhere to such deadlines or seeking agreement to suspend the deadline in accordance with the terms of the Order.
All parties should closely monitor the suspension period and those with a limitation period or procedural deadline expiring after March 16, 2020 should consider the suspension period when calculating the applicable limitation period or procedural deadline to comply with or enforce.
We continue to closely monitor the progressing COVID-19 situation and will provide updates as they are available.
Please see a copy of the Order here: https://lawsocietyontario.azureedge.net/media/lso/media/news-events/emcpa-order-eng.pdf