Changes in court process due to Covid-19 isolation

*This post is published on Heather S. Douglas’s website as well. Things are changing quickly and it is best to consult the relevant Court website for the most up to date information.

Courts in Ontario have implemented changes to accommodate the rapidly evolving Covid-19 situation. Lawyer Heather S. Douglas explains to Heather Hui-Litwin (Self-Rep Navigator Co-founder) what these changes are.

QUESTION 1: What is the current situation on court closure? Are all Ontario courts closed or just GTA? Which website is best for this update?

ANSWER: Around March 16, 2020, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, the Ontario Court of Justice, and the Small Claims Court suspended all hearings until further notice. Only emergency matters will be heard by the court. It is my understanding that all scheduled matters up to May 31, 2020 are adjourned, except for urgent matters https://www.ontariocourts.ca/scj/notices-and-orders-covid-19/

QUESTION 2: So, what is considered an “urgent matter”?

The following is considered an urgent matter: public health and safety, child and family protection matters, and urgent civil matters where there is significant financial repercussions if there is no hearing.  https://www.ontariocourts.ca/scj/covid-19-suspension-fam/

The Supreme Court of Canada is allowing filing of all documents by email. https://www.scc-csc.ca/ar-lr/notices-avis/20-03-eng.aspx

In my opinion, the best place to find information is the Twitter page: https://twitter.com/SCJOntario_en

QUESTION 3: Court procedures have all kinds of deadlines. Do you know what the court is doing about this? For example, what if you want to sue someone, and the limitation period is due say next week, what should you do?

ANSWER: Under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. E.9, section 7.1(2), an order was made to suspend any limitation period for the duration of the emergency. The suspension is retroactive to March 16, 2020. Any provision of any statute, regulation, rule, or bylaw establishing any period of time in which a step must be taken in Ontario, subject to the discretion of the court, tribunal, or a decision maker, is suspended from March 16, 2020 for the duration of the emergency.  

QUESTION 4: Has the Law Society of Ontario changed the new client intake identification and verification requirements to accommodate self-isolation?

ANSWER: The Law Society of Ontario has provided the following guidance:

“At this time, the client identification and verification requirements of By-Law 7.1 continue to apply. However:

  • Lawyers and paralegals should review the information below as they do not need to verify the identity of their clients for all matters.
  • If only client identification is required, lawyers and paralegals are able to comply with their professional obligations without meeting face-to-face or via video conference.
  • As a result of COVID-19, until further notice, the Law Society will interpret the requirement that lawyers and paralegals verify the identity of their client face-to-face as not requiring the lawyer or paralegal to be in the physical presence of the client. Rather, alternative means of verification such as face-to-face verification via video conference will be permitted. Nonetheless, lawyers and paralegals should conduct a risk assessment to ensure that it is appropriate in their circumstances to verify identity via video conference. If a lawyer or paralegal chooses to verify identity via video conference, they should also attempt to manage some of the risks associated with this practice as outlined below.

Current Requirements:
Because there is no obligation to meet with a client face-to-face to identify the client, lawyers and paralegals should

  • Keep in mind the distinction between identifying and verifying the identity of a client:

Identifying the client means obtaining certain basic information about your client and any third party directing, instructing or who has the authority to direct or instruct your client, such as a name and address. You must obtain this information whenever you are retained to provide legal services to a client unless an exemption applies. This step can be done by email, phone, video conference, or other forms of communication. There is no requirement that it be completed face-to-face.

Verifying the identity of a client means actually looking at an original identifying document from an independent source to ensure that your clients and any third parties are who they say they are. You are only required to verify the identity of your client and such third parties if you are involved in a funds transfer activity, that is, you engage in or instruct with respect to the payment, receipt or transfer of funds, and an exception does not apply.

  • Assess whether verification of identity is required in the matter.


Verification of client identity occurs face-to-face unless

  • The individual whose identity is being verified is present in Canada and an attestation from a commissioner of oaths or other guarantor is provided; or
  • The individual whose identity is being verified is not present in Canada and verification is provided by an agent.

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