Earlier today, the Ontario government extended all its emergency orders (including the order suspending statutory deadlines). de VRIES LITIGATION LLP brings you this special Saturday blog on this matter and other breaking developments on the justice system and COVID-19.
As noted in my previous blog, the Ontario government made an order under sections 7.01 and 7.1 of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act to suspend limitation periods and other statutory deadlines. This included any limitation period statute, regulation, rule, by-law or government order (or any procedural deadline established thereto). This order was going to expire this Tuesday, June 30, 2020. However, earlier today the Ontario government extended all emergency orders to July 10, 2020. The underlying state of emergency due to COVID-19, meanwhile, is set to expire on July 15, 2020. While no one knows what the future holds, it is likely that these will not be the last extensions.
It also appears likely that there will be a limited re-opening of some courtrooms on July 6, 2020. Chief Justice Morawetz has released a new notice to the profession (augmenting the previous notice to the profession I blogged about here). The current plan is to reopen 56 courtrooms across Ontario (including 18 in Toronto) on July 6, 2020. The courtrooms and courthouses will be assessed for factors such as the ability to physically distance, plexiglass barriers, disinfectant and personal protective equipment. Ultimately, these courtrooms will only reopen if the Ministry of Health concluding that the health and safety of all courthouse participants can be adequately protected.
The Ministry of the Attorney General will be posting a guidebook on health and safety measures before July 6, 2020. Given how COVID-19 has been found to spread, hopefully the guidebook will mandate the wearing of masks for everyone in the courtroom (although accommodation will have to be made in order to ensure that everyone can be clearly heard).
When courtrooms are reopened, priority use will be given to trials, other hearings that are urgent and matters scheduled to be heard during the suspension of regular operations. Lawyers and parties are expected to come to court half an hour early due to additional screening measures. Parties are warned by the Chief Justice to not bring family members or other support individuals unless absolutely necessary. Finally, gowning will be optional for counsel due to limited space in robing rooms. However, business attire is still expected: counsel must forego their normal COVID-19 fashion!