Editor’s Note and Update – April 1, 2020
On March 31, 2020, British Columbia formally extended its declaration of a state of emergency in relation to COVID-19 through the end of the day on April 14, 2020. (Link: https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2020PREM0018-000607)
A public health emergency was declared in British Columbia on March 17, 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic by provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister, Adrian Dix, pursuant to the Public Health Act, S.B.C 2008, c 28 (the “Act“). This declaration, like similar ones made across the country, caused organizations and individuals alike to implement urgent and unprecedented measures to flatten the curve of infection.
The effect of such measures on the legal profession has been significant. Courts across the country have restricted operations, suspended filing deadlines, automatically adjourned hearings, and altered strict rules requiring face-to-face meetings.
We recently wrote about Ontario’s order to suspend all limitations and procedural deadlines during its declared state of emergency (to read that post, click here). The Government of British Columbia has not followed suit to date. As such, while courts in this province have suspended some filing deadlines, they continue to be dealt with by each level of court individually.
On March 24, 2020, Canadian Bar Association – British Columbia Branch president, Kenneth Armstrong, wrote to the Attorney General urging the province to suspend all statutory limitation date for the duration of the state of emergency (see link below). The Attorney General has yet to respond to this request.
B.C. Court of Appeal
The B.C. Court of Appeal is now operating pursuant to a Notice to the Public Regarding the Court of Appeal for British Columbia’s Response to COVID-19, dated March 17, 2020 and effective March 18, 2020 until further notice (link below).
Pursuant to the Notice, all appeal hearings and other matters scheduled to occur in the Court of Appeal between March 18 and May 1, 2020 were adjourned automatically, subject only to a designation by the Chief Justice as matters that must proceed (e.g. urgent criminal, family law, or child protection matter).
Deadlines for New Appeals
Notwithstanding such a restriction on operations, the Court has advised all parties to continue to file and serve notices of appeal or applications for leave to appeal within the required time periods. The Court recommends that such filings be made electronically, by fax, or by mail.
Importantly, the Court directed that after the filing and serving of new notices of appeal or applications for leave to appeal, all subsequent filing and serving deadlines will be suspended and will start to run again beginning May 4, 2020, unless otherwise directed.
Deadlines for Existing Appeals
Pursuant to the Notice, the filing and service deadlines for all existing appeals, existing applications for leave to appeal, or other existing matters before the Court are suspended and will start to run again beginning May 4, 2020. The exceptions to this, however, are those matters designated by the Chief Justice as matters that must proceed, or unless otherwise directed by the Court.
B.C. Supreme Court
The B.C. Supreme Court is now operating pursuant to a Notice to the Profession, the Public and the Media Regarding Civil and Family Proceedings, dated March 18, 2020 and effective March 19, 2020 until further notice (link below).
Pursuant to the Notice, all matters scheduled for hearing between March 19, 2020 and May 1, 2020 (including all trials, conferences and chambers applications scheduled before May 1, 2020) were adjourned automatically, unless directed otherwise by the Court. The Court will only hear the essential and urgent matters listed in the Notice.
Filing Timelines under the Supreme Court Civil Rules and other Limitation Periods
Pursuant to the Notice, effective March 18, 2020 all filing deadlines under the Supreme Court Civil Rules and the Supreme Court Family Rules were suspended until May 1, 2020.
All other statutory deadlines and limitation periods continue to apply to parties until further notice.
The Court will hear applications from those parties who wish to apply to request an extension for such deadlines on a case-by-case basis, but such applications will not be heard until the Court resumes regular operations.
B.C. Provincial Court
The B.C. Provincial Court is now operating pursuant to a Notice to the Profession and Public, dated March 19, 2020, revised March 23, 2020, and effective March 25, 2020 until further notice (link below).
Pursuant to the Notice, all small claims conferences (settlement and trial) scheduled between March 16 and May 16 will not proceed and those parties with dates scheduled will receive notice by May 4, 2020 of their next appearance date.
All non-urgent small claims matters (including trials) that were scheduled to proceed or continue between March 16, 2020 and May 16, 2020 were adjourned automatically. The Court has provided a list of dates in the Notice for parties to review in order to determine their next appearance date based on their previously scheduled date. For example, if a trial was scheduled to commence April 24, 2020, the parties are now automatically scheduled to attend July 23, 2020 to set a new trial date.
Pursuant to the Notice, effective March 18, 2020, all in-person filings at all Court locations have been suspended and the Court will not accept any new, non-urgent small claims filings between March 18, 2020 and May 16, 2020.
Although it is not expressed in the Notice, it appears all other statutory deadlines and limitation periods continue to apply to parties until further notice.
“Urgent” small claims matters, as determined by a judge, will be heard by phone and include applications to: (1) preserve limitation periods; (2) extend the time for filing pleadings where permitted under the Small Claims Rules; and (3) renew notices of claim.
Such urgent applications to a judge can be sent electronically using Court Services online, by email, fax phone or mail to the local registry.
Across the country, courts are responding and adapting to new and unprecedented measures being taken to address the COVID-19 pandemic. With restricted operations, courts are having to address the issue of filing deadlines and limitation periods which may be impacted.
Unlike in Ontario, as of March 24, 2020 no overruling order has been made in B.C. to suspend all procedural deadlines and limitation periods during the state of emergency.
As a result, each level of court in this province has given some direction regarding the suspension of filing deadlines, but made it clear that limitation periods continue to apply across the province. Parties should therefore follow all deadlines unless they have been specifically suspended by way of court direction or government order.
We continue to closely monitor the progressing COVID-19 situation and will provide updates as they are available.
Please see a copy of the Court of Appeal Notice here: https://www.bccourts.ca/Court_of_Appeal/
Please see a copy of the Supreme Court Notice here: https://www.bccourts.ca/supreme_court/
Please see a copy of the Provincial Court Notice here: https://www.provincialcourt.bc.ca/
Please see a copy of Kenneth Armstrong’s letter here: https://www.cbabc.org/CMSPages/GetFile.aspx?guid=634f6713-ea01-44f5-abf2-ef400fbd626d