COVID-19

Closures Affecting Courts and Workplace Tribunals in Alberta – Updated May 13/20

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, a number of courts and workplace tribunals have announced a cancellation of hearings and other related adjustments to their operations, including:

Alberta Courts

As of March 30, 2020, public access to all courthouses in Alberta is restricted until further notice to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Those permitted to enter the courthouses at this time include:

Those permitted to enter the courthouses at this time include:

  • Parties to litigation or appeal;
  • Counsel to parties to litigation or appeal;
  • Witnesses;
  • Interpreters;
  • People filing documents at the Court registry;
  • and others (see full list here).

Physical attendance will be refused to those who are self‑isolating due to recent travel or contact with individuals with COVID-19, or those who exhibit any symptoms of the virus. The Court is urging parties to file by email or fax, or direct court runners or litigants to use the drop boxes available at the courthouse to limit traffic through the buildings

This Notice to the Profession dated March 23, 2020 outlines the matters that are still being administered at the Provincial Court of Alberta, the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, and the Alberta Court of Appeal respectively, at this time.

Alberta Court of Appeal
  • On May 6, 2020, the Court of Appeal issued a notice regarding its response to COVID-19, including:
    • A suspension of limitation periods and time periods for particular steps to be taken in a proceeding from March 17 to June 1, 2020;
    • A general summary of steps taken by the various levels of Courts in Alberta during this time, which are summarized throughout this article; and
    • An intention to continue technological innovations at the Courts to improve efficiency, cost effectiveness, and access to justice through the government’s $27 million commitment to the Justice Digital Program.
  • On April 8, 2020, the Court of Appeal issued a notice regarding attendance at electronic hearings of the following parties:
    • counsel and self-represented litigants whose attendance will be coordinated by the Court’s Registry;
    • members of accredited media who may attend only if adhering to the Court’s Policy on the Use of Electronic Devices in Courtrooms; and
    • participants represented by counsel who may arrange with their lawyer to view or listen to the recording in their lawyer’s office after signing an Undertaking that they will not record or rebroadcast the Court proceedings. See Undertaking and Notice here (applies to self-represented litigants also).
  • The Court began conducting appeals using WebEx platform the week of April 27th in Edmonton and the week of May 4th in Calgary.
  • Due to practical and logistical issues, and in balancing the privacy of confidential information with public access to justice, electronic hearings are not open at this time to non-participants.
  • Effective April 1, 2020, the Court of Appeal has adopted the Court of Queen’s Bench practice of commissioning affidavits remotely (see further below). Registry clerks are limited to in-person commissioning of affidavits by parties.
  • The Court of Appeal continues to hear appeals, applications and motions, but as of March 23, 2020, these are no longer being heard in person.
  • Effective March 25, 2020, and unless otherwise directed by a case management officer or judge, where an appeal has not yet been set for hearing, certain deadlines have been extended. Otherwise, filing deadlines with the Alberta Court of Appeal have not changed. The Court’s Case Management Officers remain available to consider requests for extensions, fiats and other administrative directions.
  • Parties are urged to file documents by email or fax.  Parties that file by fax or email will be temporarily exempted from filing paper copies, but paper copies must be provided at a later time, as required by the Court.
  • Bail check-ins will now be conducted by telephone or email, rather than in person.
  • Appellate judicial dispute resolution and bar admissions are suspended until July 2, 2020.

For cases involving the Court of Appeal, parties and counsel are encouraged to provide the Registry with an email address if they have not already done so. At this time and until notified otherwise, correspondence from and to this Court may be sent by email or fax. Where this is not possible, documents must be left in a designated Registry area for filing and other administrative tasks.

Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta

The following adjustments have been implemented at the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta, as of May 13, 2020:

  • The Court of Queen’s Bench encourages counsel and the public to access alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, such as mediation and arbitration, to reduce delays in resolving family, civil, or commercial disputes while only emergency and urgent hearings move forward at this time. See further here.
  • The Court is undertaking to reschedule judicial dispute resolution and civil trials canceled between March 16, 2020 and May 1, 2020, as well as JDRs previously scheduled for between May 1 and May 31, 2020 for WebEx hearings beginning May 4, 2020.
  • Summary Disposition Court hearings are available in Edmonton and Calgary via WebEx every Monday and Wednesday effective May 11, 2020. These will also be heard in Red Deer and Lethbridge during duty weeks.
  • The Court is implementing criminal pre-trial conferences to encourage early resolution or simplification of trial issues for adjourned criminal trials throughout May.
  • Remote early intervention case conferences (EICCs) began on May 11, 2020 to resolve as many family issues as possible. The Court is also establishing a Family Docket Court in Edmonton and Calgary to address the backlog of family matters and to triage matters to be heard through ADR, JDR, EICCs, and remote special applications.
  • Counsel may submit all documents eligible for fax filing, including signed Master and Justice Consent Orders, for processing via email. Consent orders to enforce Mediation or Arbitration Awards are also eligible. See filing requirements and further details here. The $20 cap on email and fax filing fees has been extended to June 30, 2020 (see here).
  • The Court will observe virtual commissioning of affidavits. See required process here.
  • Requests to the Court for emergency or urgent hearings in all criminal, family, commercial, and civil matters may be submitted through the online form here. See further details here.
  • Parties other than counsel participating in video or audioconference hearings must sign the Undertaking and Agreement of Non-Lawyers. See details here
  • The process for desk applications regarding notices to disclose has been revised. Further detail can be found here.
  • Electronic without notice applications before a Master are now being accepted province-wide. See here for process details.

The Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta also continues to limit hearings to emergency or urgent matters to prevent further spread of COVID-19. This currently extends to May 31, 2020, but this is subject to change. See here for the Master Order.

“Emergency matters” are considered to be those “in which serious consequences to persons or harm to property may arise if the hearing does not proceed, or if there is risk of loss of jurisdiction or expiration of an existing protection or restraining order…”.

In the context of civil, emergency matters relate to:

  • Orders relating to the pandemic, including quarantine orders (applying to the workplace, this could also include OHS and workers’ compensation issues);
  • Injunctions, where there is prime facie urgency;
  • Preservation orders; and
  • Urgent orders in the nature of certiorari, mandamus, and prohibition.

Further frequently asked questions and answers can be reviewed here.

Provincial Court of Alberta

On May 13, 2020, the Court announced the COVID-19 Staged Resumption of Court Operations – Part 1, which will cover the period from May 25th through July 3rd. The Plan will be based on the Court’s ability to maintain public health guidelines, and Court access will continue to be restricted as per the guidance above.

As of May 13, 2020, the Court has implemented the following measures:

  • The Court has reduced operational locations. Those still operating in the province can be found here.
  • All Provincial Court civil matters (trials, chamber list applications, pretrial conferences) scheduled to be heard prior to May 22, 2020 are adjourned indefinitely. For the time being, all matters scheduled after May 22, 2020 will remain as scheduled, and will proceed by videoconference or teleconference. Trials (other than simplified trials) will be case managed by a Judge. See further detail here regarding these adjournments, as well as adjournments for criminal matters and others.
  • The implementation of New Criminal Rules has been delayed until further notice. See here for further details.
  • Pre-trial and pre-preliminary inquiry conferences in the Criminal Division will now be conducted on all matters set or to be set for a half-day or more. This will also be available upon request of Counsel or at direction of the Court. The Court will also take further action to address criminal matters currently set or to be set for trial or preliminary inquiry between July 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020.
  • All Case Management Offices (CMOs) in the province are closed until further notice, and will not accept an in-person matter scheduling. Contact details can be found here.

Further, the Provincial Court civil matters will only be filing urgent/time sensitive documents:

  • Civil Claims where the limitation period/date is about to expire;
  • Applications and Affidavits for extending time for service of a Civil Claim that will soon expire;
  • Affidavits supporting substitutional service and orders within 90 days of the claim expiring;
  • Dispute Notes and other time sensitive pleadings;
  • Notices of Appeal; and
  • Applications that are of an emergent nature (such as setting aside a judgment where collection proceedings have commenced, or Landlord/Tenant matters where safety is an issue).Summary judgement applications will be referred to a Judge for a determination of urgency.

Please note: the Court will determine if the Application will be filed, and if and when the hearing will be set.

Non-urgent documents (including cheque for filing fee where applicable) may now be dropped off at the drop off boxes located at the entrances of the Calgary Court Centre and Edmonton Law Courts. Further detail can be found here.

Alberta Labour Relations Board

Effective April 3, 2020, the Labour Relations Board is adjourning all in-person hearings and resolution conferences scheduled up to and including May 31, 2020 until further notice. For hearings and resolution conferences scheduled between March 17, 2020 and May 31, 2020, parties may make submissions to the Board about options for proceeding via teleconference or written submissions. Please note that when rescheduling adjourned matters, the Board will prioritize matters that are mandated under the Code to be heard on an expedited basis.

In addition, the Labour Relations Board’s front-line reception areas in both its Edmonton and Calgary offices will be closed to the public for walk-in inquiries until further notice. Parties are encouraged to contact the Board with any further questions

The Board will continue to receive applications, responses and any other submissions in accordance with its Rules of Procedure, and now has email filing available at ALRB.EDM@gov.ab.ca. Further details can be found here.

Workers’ Compensation Board – Alberta

To ensure the safety of staff and clients during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Workers’ Compensation Board – Alberta offices are closed to visitors, apart from those with pre-arranged cheque pick-up. In addition, effective March 23, 2020, the Millard Health Treatment Center is closed, and all in-person services are suspended.

The WCB Alberta continues to email letters regarding important information to employers. Further, should any employer require flexibility in managing account premiums during this time, such as revisions to insurable earnings, changes to payment plans, or changes to optional coverage, the WCB Alberta is available. Further information can be found here.

Alberta Human Rights Commission & Tribunal
  • Limitation periods pertaining to the Alberta Human Rights Act are suspended effective March 17, 2020 through June 1, 2020. See further detail here.
  • Front-line counter and other in-person services are cancelled, but remain open for distributing and receiving complaint forms, response forms, and receiving other documents related to ongoing human rights complaints.
  • The AHRC will contact parties with upcoming tribunal dispute resolution meetings (TDRs) or other conciliations to arrange for rescheduling, or to make adjustments to proceed via telephone or videoconference. Previously scheduled pre-hearing teleconferences will proceed as scheduled, unless otherwise advised. Questions regarding this change can be directed to the Tribunal Office at 780-638-4635 or AHRCTribunal@gov.ab.ca.
  • All tribunal hearings scheduled to be heard before May 31, 2020 have been adjourned.

Mathews Dinsdale & Clark expects that the bulk of human rights complaints filed by employees related to this unprecedented pandemic will be on the basis of alleged discrimination on the prohibited grounds of family status (i.e. child care) and/or disability (illness, isolation or perceived illness).  Liability for an employer can arise if either of those prohibited grounds of discrimination are improperly even a factor in an employment related decision.

As the COVID-19 situation in the province continues to unfold, it is a high priority of our Firm, and of the legal profession, to continue the administration of justice while safeguarding the health and safety of all those involved in the justice system, including the public. Measures are being taken by our Firm to continue work however possible, particularly through leveraging technologies for working remotely.

Employers and all other stakeholders are encouraged to continue communicating with the AHRC via telephone, email, fax, and mail, as long as these services remain available to the public. Users are also encouraged by the AHRC to access its website, and contact the Confidential Inquiry Line (via phone and email) where they require further assistance: 780-427-7661 and AHRC.Registrar@gov.ab.ca.

We will continue to update our clients with information as it becomes available. If you have any questions about this topic, other COVID-19 related questions, or would like assistance with developing and/or reviewing pandemic plans, please do not hesitate to contact a Mathews Dinsdale lawyer, or refer to the Firm’s COVID-19 website resources.

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