March 16, 2020; revised May 4, 2020 and June 2, 2020
By notice dated Monday, March 16, 2020, sittings of the Ontario Small Claims Court were suspended until further notice in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The hearings suspended included, but were not limited to, all trials, settlement conferences, motions, assessment hearings, garnishment hearings, contempt hearings and examinations, including teleconference hearings and videoconference hearings.
On June 2, 2020, the Small Claims Court will begin scheduling select settlement conferences in non-urgent matters, to be conducted remotely.
The Small Claims Court will hear urgent motions and urgent garnishment hearings during the COVID-19 emergency period. All urgent hearings will be heard by telephone or videoconference.
A judge will review each request and decide whether an urgent hearing will be scheduled. Urgent cases may include:
- Cases in which a judgment debtor has an outstanding warrant for arrest issued in relation to a Small Claims Court proceeding; or
- Time-sensitive cases that would result in immediate and serious financial hardship if there were no hearing.
Steps to Seek an Urgent Hearing
If the judge approves your request for an urgent hearing, you will receive an email with the date of your hearing, details about how to attend by telephone or videoconference and an email address where you must send your court documents for the hearing.
If you require legal advice in preparing a request for an urgent hearing, you may seek assistance through Pro Bono Ontario’s Free Legal Advice Hotline (1-855-255-7256).
On June 2, 2020, the Small Claims Court will begin scheduling remote settlement conferences in non-urgent matters only where:
- All parties to the action agree to proceed with a remote settlement conference;
- Each defendant has filed a defence or was noted in default in the matter prior to March 16, 2020; and
- All parties agree to rely solely on the pleadings as filed and served.
The Court will consider any request that meets the three above criteria, even if no settlement conference had been previously scheduled in the case.
Steps for Scheduling a Settlement Conference
To request that the Court schedule a settlement conference, one party must submit the request form, available on the Superior Court of Justice website, to email@example.com. No matter which party or representative completes the form, all parties must agree to the method of hearing indicated on the form. The form must be signed by all parties or their representatives in order to be considered.
It is expected that most conferences will take place by video conferencing. A limited number may be held by telephone conferencing. A device with a camera and a microphone, plus access to WiFi/an internet connection, will be required for participation by video conferencing.
Suspension of Counter Service in Small Claims Courts
The Ministry of the Attorney General advises that although courthouses will remain open, effective May 4, 2020, counter service at all Small Claims Court locations is suspended and filings will no longer be accepted in person.
Where procedural rules or court orders require the filing of documents during this emergency period, and it is not possible to do so because Small Claims Court counter-service has been suspended, parties can expect the Court to grant extensions of time once the Court’s normal operations resume. Parties must still comply with orders and rules requiring the service or delivery of documents as between parties.
If you wish to file a claim in Small Claims Court during the suspension, you may do so online at: https://www.ontario.ca/page/file-small-claims-online/page/file-small-claims-online.
If you require legal advice to assist you in filing a claim, you may seek assistance through Pro Bono Ontario’s Free Legal Advice Hotline (1-855-255-7256).
Where a judge authorizes a party to email materials to the court for an urgent hearing and it is not possible to email a sworn affidavit, unsworn affidavits will be accepted on the condition that a sworn affidavit is provided prior to the hearing or the person is available at the hearing to swear or affirm of the affidavit.
Where parties and representatives deliver materials by email, they undertake to file the same materials in paper format, and pay the requisite filing fee, at the court counter when regular court operations resume.
The Ontario Small Claims Court continues to monitor the COVID-19 situation. In the weeks ahead, the Court will gradually resume regular operations and reschedule matters.
You may wish to also consult the Ministry of Health’s website at Ontario.ca/coronavirus for further information on how to protect yourself.
While the Ontario Small Claims Court is an important source of timely access to justice in Ontario, the health and safety of those who use and work in the Small Claims Court is our priority.
Thank you very much for your understanding and co-operation during this extraordinary time.
Geoffrey B. Morawetz
Superior Court of Justice