In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, British Columbia courts and workplace administrative tribunals have announced adjustments to their operations. These include:
British Columbia Courts
Suspension of Limitation Periods
On March 26, 2020, the Province issued Ministerial Order No. M086, which ordered every mandatory limitation period related to a civil or family action, proceeding, claim or appeal in the Provincial Court, Supreme Court or Court of Appeal to be suspended until the B.C. declaration of state of emergency expires or is cancelled.
Boards and Tribunals were also granted the power to waive, suspend or extend mandatory time periods related to the exercise of their statutorily-granted powers.
Effective April 28, 2020, the Provincial Court is announcing use of audio- or video-conferencing for some proceedings. Since March 25, 2020, regular court operations had been suspended.
Small claims settlement conferences and trial conferences scheduled to occur from March 16 to May 16, 2020, will not proceed. Starting May 4, 2020, parties will be contacted to reschedule and the matter will be heard by audio- or video-conference. Small claims settlement conferences scheduled to occur from May 19 to July 3, 2020 will proceed by audio- or video-conference.
In-person trials will not be accommodated, unless a judge orders otherwise. Non-urgent trials scheduled to proceed between March 16 to May 16, 2020, have been adjourned. Parties to trials and trial continuations must have a pre-trial conference to determine whether the matter can be resolved or how to proceed. The pre-trial conference will be conducted via audio- or video-conference. Only urgent small claims matters will be heard by telephone.
All trials and trial continuations scheduled from May 19 to July 3, 2020, will proceed on their original dates. However, instead of a trial, the parties will have a pre-trial conference via audio- or video-conference to determine whether the matter can be resolved, or otherwise determine how to proceed. Non-urgent small claims matters scheduled between May 19 and July 3, 2020, have been adjourned.
The Court will not be accepting any new, non-urgent small claims filings until further notice, with limited exceptions.
More information is available from the Provincial Court’s update, here.
Effective March 19, 2020, the B.C. Supreme Court suspended regular operations at all locations. All civil and family matters have been suspended until May 29, 2020, unless the Court directed otherwise. Effective April 20, 2020, the Court will allow parties to schedule a COVID-19 Telephone Conference Hearing (“TCH”) for non-urgent or essential matters scheduled between March 19 and May 29, 2020 if:
- The matter is limited to one disputed issue or (if the matter involves more than one issue) the parties have reached consent on some or all issues;
- The disputed issue is suitable for determination by telephone and is estimated to take less than one hour; and
- The disputed issued can be addressed on the basis of a single affidavit filed per party, no longer than 10 pages.
The Court retains discretion to decide if a matter is not appropriate for determination at a TCH, If a party or counsel is unable to participate as a result of COVID-19, the matter cannot proceed by TCH.
Effective April 27, 2020, parties may bring certain applications by written submissions. These applications include those limited to one disputed issue that can be addressed on the basis of one ten-page affidavit per party (including exhibits). Parties involved in matters with more than one issue may bring an application via written submissions if all but one issue has been resolved by consent; or, if all issues have been identified, and only one is chosen to proceed. Further, it must be possible for the remaining issue to be addressed on the basis of one affidavit per party, subject to the same length restrictions outlined above.
Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal has extended the suspension of service and filing deadlines for existing appeals and chambers applications to June 1, 2020.
The following changes have also been announced, which will take effect on May 4, 2020:
- Electronic filing in civil appeals will be mandatory, with limited exceptions;
- The Court will hear all appeals scheduled on or after May 4, 2020, by videoconferencing using the Zoom platform, including those that are not urgent; and
- All chambers applications and Registrar’s appointments will be heard via teleconference or in writing.
More information is available in the Court of Appeal’s updated notice.
Labour Relations Board
As of March 30, 2020, the Labour Board offices remain closed to the public. Limited staff are on site receiving correspondence by mail or fax.
Applications and complaints are still being accepted and processed, though response times may be delayed and, pursuant to Ministerial Order no. M086, the Board is empowered to relieve parties against time periods. With respect to labour arbitrations, requests to waive, suspend or extend a mandatory time period should be made to the appointed arbitrator.
Hearings, mediations, and settlement conferences will still occur, though not in-person. Whether critical, statutorily-prescribed matters necessitate an oral hearing will be determined by the assigned panel, and alternatives to the giving of in-person evidence will be considered. This may include use of web-based video conferencing. The Board has issued Guidelines for conducting virtual proceedings; however, the Board has the discretion to depart from them.
Applications requiring a Board-administered vote will be processed, though all hearings will be conducted by teleconference and votes will be conducted by mail ballot.
The Board has waived the requirement that a party file a sworn statutory declaration in support of applications under the Code.
Human Rights Tribunal
The Tribunal’s reception desk, hearing and mediation rooms are closed to the public. Parties may file materials by mail, fax and email. Parties that may need more time to file a complaint are being directed by the Tribunal to explain on the complaint form that it is being filed late because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Tribunal will be contacting parties with in-person mediation or hearings in the near future to discuss other methods of proceeding.
Employment Standards Tribunal
As of March 23, 2020, the Tribunal office is closed to the public and no in-person meetings are taking place. Tribunal staff are primarily working remotely and the Tribunal has indicated that they are experiencing delays in processing appeals.
As of March 31, 2020, WorkSafeBC is still operating, but has closed all offices to visitors. WorkSafeBC may be contacted by telephone for emergency, claims, health and safety, and insurance assistance. Many services may also be accessed online. WorkSafeBC’s prevention team is continuing to conduct worksite inspections, including in relation to COVID-19 safety measures.
The Review Division continues to receive requests for review, and will be completing decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, effective March 26, 2020, in-person hearings ceased. With respect to completing reviews within statutory timelines, WorkSafeBC has indicated it will be flexible and grant time extensions where necessary.
We will continue to update our clients with information as soon 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.