Temporary changes in the courts of Alberta and Canada in response to COVID-19

Article written on 15 March 2020. To be updated regularly.

In an effort to contain the propagation of coronavirus COVID-19, many courts and other tribunals have introduced temporary changes that I have summarised below. For full details, please consult the relevant Web sites. I offer this summary as a public service; I do not guarantee its exhaustiveness or its ongoing accuracy.

Update from 23 March 2020: Only people who need to attend the courthouses on business are allowed to do so. These include parties to litigation, witnesses, counsel, and members of the media. Most scheduled hearings have been postponed or adjourned sine die (which means that no new date has been scheduled). The courts of Alberta are conducting most of their business from a distance, by means such as telephone, e-mail, and fax.

Provincial Court of Alberta

The implementation of the new procedural rules for criminal matters has been postponed.

First appearances for traffic tickets are not being held.

Update from 16 March 2020:

Only criminal appearances for people in custody and urgent matters in the areas of family law, child protection, and civil litigation will proceed. All other appearances, including all non-urgent matters and all criminal appearances for accused people who are not in custody, will have to be rescheduled; details will follow.

Traffic court is closed until further notice. Traffic tickets may be paid on line. Not-guilty pleas, requests for time to pay or for extensions of time to pay, and adjournments can all be handled by telephone, fax, or e-mail. It is still necessary either to pay the ticket or to advise the court of other intentions (such as pleading not guilty) by the deadline marked on the ticket: failure to do so will result in a conviction in absence.

Only people whose presence is required may enter courtrooms.

Update from 23 March 2020:

Many of the smaller courthouses have closed. See the link above for details. If you have a matter that was being heard in one of these smaller locations, please contact the court by telephone or e-mail to find out where it will be heard now.

Up to 22 May 2020, all criminal appearances for people not in custody and all non-urgent family matters have been adjourned by ten weeks. Counsel should make a note of the new date and shall not attend the courthouse for the adjournment itself, which takes effect by decision of the court.

Also up to 22 May 2020, all civil matters have been adjourned sine die. These will therefore have to be rescheduled eventually. Matters scheduled for dates after 22 May 2020 are unaffected.

The court continues to hear urgent matters, including all criminal matters for which the accused is in custody, certain types of family matters, and civil matters that a judge has determined to be urgent.

The Provincial Court is now accepting for filing only documents that are urgent or time-sensitive.

Only people who need to be at the courthouse are allowed to attend. Counsel may attend only on urgent business.

Update from 27 March 2020:

The Case Management Offices are closed until further notice.

Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta

New jury trials and jury selection have been suspended until 31 May 2020; accordingly, jury summonses for that period are cancelled. Jury trials and jury selection that are in progress, however, will continue.

Most hearings scheduled from the present to 27 March 2020 1 May 2020 are adjourned sine die or are cancelled, and new ones will not be scheduled for that period. Exceptions exist for urgent matters in defined categories. Also, as is mentioned above, jury trials that are in progress will continue. Despite these changes, filing continues as usual, for now. The court will issue an update no later than 25 March 2020.

Ceremonies for admission to the bar are subject to new restrictions. Until 31 March 2020, no more than fifty people may attend a ceremony. Thereafter until 31 May 2020, only close friends and members of the immediate family may attend, and the ceremonies will be limited to the strictly required formalities, without the usual pomp.

In chambers, criminal appearances, arraignments, and other proceedings with hearing lists, all people proposing to attend are required to check in with the presiding clerk, who may make requests respecting social distancing. (Remember that the court has the authority to manage its own processes, so it can exclude people from the courtroom and adjourn both scheduled and unscheduled hearings. While the present restriction remains in effect, I recommend that you not attend hearings unless you are legitimately involved in them as a party, a witness, an officer of the court, or otherwise.)

Update from 19 March 2020:

Masters in chambers remain available for urgent matters. Please do not attend for non-urgent matters.

Update from 20 March 2020:

The suspension of most hearings has been extended to 1 May 2020. Send e-mail or call the court if your matter requires urgent attention.

Update from 23 March 2020:

Fax-filing has been expanded to e-mail. Please see the link above for details.

Update from 25 March 2020:

The Law Society of Alberta has temporarily authorised a procedure for the commissioning via videoconference of affidavits to be filed with the Court of Queen’s Bench. Please see the link above for details of the procedure, which is rather involved.

Update from 26 March 2020:

The Chief Justice has issued a new bilingual «Master Order» providing further direction on the changes to criminal, civil, and family proceedings. Please see the link above.

Madame la Juge en chef a prononcé une nouvelle « Ordonnance directrice » bilingue précisant davantage les changements aux procédures pénales, civiles et familiales. Voir le lien ci-dessus.

Also, the court has just published a new procedure for requesting urgent hearings.

Court of Appeal of Alberta

Update from 16 March 2020:

The court is asking that only those whose presence is required attend court.

As of 23 March 2020, hearings before a single judge will be conducted by telephone, unless otherwise directed by the court. As of 30 March 2020, hearings before a three-judge panel will be conducted by telephone or by videoconference, unless otherwise directed by the court. The parties may instead agree to adjourn their matters sine die, though they should be mindful of the general deadlines under RR 14.44(2) and 14.52. They may also waive oral argument.

The aforementioned changes apply until further notice. See the link above for details.

Update from 23 March 2020:

As of 25 March 2020, for any appeal that has not been scheduled for a hearing, deadlines for filing most documents that would have fallen on or before 4 May 2020 are now extended by two months. Deadlines for filing commencement documents and applications, however, continue to apply. Filing may now be done by fax or e-mail, with electronic payment through a Web site (see above for details); indeed, the court urges parties and counsel to do their filing by these means.

Admissions to the bar are being conducted by telephone until 2 July 2020. Newly admitted lawyers are welcome to arrange a public ceremony later on.

Appellate judicial dispute resolution (JDR) is also suspended until 2 July 2020.

People who are required to attend personally at the registry to check in pursuant to a bail order (order for judicial interim release) may now do so by telephone or e-mail. Please see the link above for details.

Federal Court

Until 27 March 2020, the Federal Court will not sit in locations other than Ottawa. It will generally conduct motions, hearings, case conferences, and the like by teleconference, or else adjourn them sine die. For some matters, the parties may make a joint request to substitute written submissions for a hearing.

Federal Court of Appeal

Until 23 March 2020, hearings scheduled for Calgary, Edmonton, Montréal, Ottawa, or Toronto will continue; however, the court favours teleconference or videoconference, and it has been granting requests for adjournments made for health-related reasons.

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court’s facilities are closed to visitors, but matters already scheduled will continue, and the Court remains open for case-related business.

Alberta Human Rights Commission

Update from 17 March 2020:

The offices remain open and continue to conduct hearings and Tribunal Dispute Resolution meetings. Scheduled meetings for conciliation may proceed by telephone or videoconference, or they may have to be rescheduled.

Canadian Human Rights Commission

No changes have been announced.

Immigration and Refugee Board

Update from 16 March 2020:

From 17 March 2020 to 5 April 2020, only detention hearings will proceed in person. All other hearings are postponed; they will be rescheduled once the Immigration and Refugee Board resumes full operations. Time limits for filing certain documents are being extended in light of the reduction in services.

Alberta Land Titles

Update from 19 March 2020:

The offices of Alberta Land Titles in Calgary and Edmonton have suspended service in person at the counter. Instead, they are conducting business by computer and through deliveries of documents.

The Law Offices of P Scott Horne

My own offices remain open. Since many other lawyers have stopped serving clients in person, I am making extra efforts to provide needed legal services. Please call for an appointment.

The building that houses my offices asks people who feel ill not to visit. If you are not well, please contact me by telephone or e-mail. You may be able to receive services from a distance or through special means.

I intend to advise clients promptly of any delays or adjustments necessitated by operational changes at the courthouses, and I shall continue to take all reasonable measures to advance clients’ interests expeditiously.

Other

The offices of the Law Society of Alberta (LSA), the Alberta Lawyer’s Indemnity Association (ALIA), and the Canadian Centre for Professional Legal Education (CPLED) are closed until 30 March 2020; however, some employees are working from home to fulfil urgent needs.

Visits to provincial correctional facilities and young-offender centres in Alberta are suspended until further notice. This includes lawyers’ visits to their clients. Please use the telephone or make other arrangements.

Scott Horne, lawyer, Edmonton, Alberta

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