In a Notice to the Profession, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has advised that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, it will hear the following civil matters:
- urgent and time-sensitive motions and applications, where immediate and significant financial repercussions may result if there is no judicial hearing; and
- outstanding warrants issued in relation to a Small Claims Court or Superior Court civil proceeding.
The Court also has discretion to hear any other matter that it deems necessary and appropriate to hear on an urgent basis. These matters will be strictly limited.
When a moving party or applicant files materials to request an urgent hearing, the trial coordinator will seek direction from a triage judge as to whether or not the matter is urgent and should be scheduled for a hearing.
If a hearing is scheduled, it may be conducted in writing, by teleconference, or by videoconference, unless the Court determines that an in-person hearing is necessary.
The decision in Ribeiro v. Wright, 2020 ONSC 1829, demonstrates that the Court will only be hearing the most urgent of matters during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a child custody dispute, the mother attempted to bring an urgent motion to suspend all in-person access of the father due to COVID-19. The mother is concerned that the father will not maintain social distancing for the child. Further, the mother does not want her son leaving the home for any reason.
Justice Pazaratz noted that most social, government, and employment institutions, including the court system, are struggling to cope with COVID-19.
Based on the written materials that were filed, Justice Pazaratz held that the court would not hear the mother’s motion.
Although the mother’s concerns about COVID-19 were well-founded, His Honour was not satisfied that the mother established a failure, inability, or refusal by the father to adhere to appropriate COVID-19 protocols.
Justice Pazaratz indicated:
Judges won’t need convincing that COVID-19 is extremely serious, and that meaningful precautions are required to protect children and families. We know there’s a problem. What we’re looking for is realistic solutions. We will be looking to see if parents have made good faith efforts to communicate; to show mutual respect; and to come up with creative and realistic proposals which demonstrate both parental insight and COVID-19 awareness.
The same principles apply to all civil matters. Parties must seek access to the Court only in truly urgent situations. Court resources are extremely limited at this time. Before turning to the court system, parties and counsel should cooperate and attempt to find solutions.
As stated by Justice Pazaratz, “None of us have ever experienced anything like this. We are all going to have to try a bit harder”.