How is Small Claims Court handling cases during COVID-19?
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, court processes at Ontario's Small Claims Court have changed.
Most cases in Small Claims Court must be started within 2 years of when you first learned about the problem. However, the Ontario government's emergency order stopped all time limits to start a case between March 16 and September 14, 2020.
If you have a case that's already started, the emergency order also applied to many procedural steps like serving documents.
This means that the time between March 16 and September 14, 2020, will not be counted when deciding if you or someone else is too late to start a case or to take some legal steps.
Filing court forms and documents
You're encouraged to use the Small Claims Court online e-filing service to start a case. There's a guide to help you through the process. If you have a fee waiver, or want to apply for one because you cannot afford court fees, file your claim through the court's Submissions Online portal, not the e-filing service.
If you have an existing case, there are different ways to file your documents. You're encouraged to file by email or by using the court's Submissions Online portal. You must keep all the original documents that you file electronically in a safe place. The court will ask you for them later.
When emailing the court, make sure to follow the rules about what your email must look like.
If you cannot file your documents online, you can file by mail. You need to include a cheque with your documents to cover any filing fees. If you don't, your documents will be returned. Only file documents in person if you have no other option. Counter services are now open from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Preparing documents for your hearing
After you file your forms and documents, in most cases you must also send them to court by email at least 10 days before your hearing date. Use the email address of the court where your case is being heard.
If you need help emailing these documents, contact court staff as soon as possible.
It's very important that you follow this step. If you don't, the court could order you to pay some of the legal costs of the other party.
How the court holds hearings
Hearings are being held in person, by telephone, in writing, and by video conference using Zoom. The court uses different hearing methods depending on the type of your hearing. For example, most hearings are held by Zoom, but most trials are held in person. You can learn more in the court's guidelines.
If the hearing method the court chose won't work for you, you can request a change in writing to your local Small Claims Court office. You can do this by email. You can also ask in person, but only if you don't have email access. In your request, explain why you need the hearing held this way. For example, you might ask for an in person hearing because you don't have a device you can use for a virtual hearing. Or, you might ask for a Zoom hearing because you have a disability that makes it very difficult for you to travel to the court.
The court will contact you to let you know the date and time of your hearing. There's a big backlog because of COVID-19, so it might take some time to get a date.
Read the court's tip sheet on hearings to help prepare for your hearing.
Types of cases being heard
As of July 23, 2021, the court is hearing most types of cases again. But some of the processes are a little different because of COVID-19. The following cases are being heard:
- Urgent matters
- Settlement conferences
- Motions on notice to other parties
- Motions without notice
- Assessment hearings
- Terms of payment hearings
- Garnishment hearings
The court is hearing urgent cases such as:
- Where there is an outstanding arrest warrant against a person who owes money, called a judgment .
- Matters that are time sensitive and would result in immediate and serious financial consequences if there were no hearing.
To request an urgent hearing, email your Form 15A Notice of Motion and Support Affidavit and Form 8A Affidavit of Service to your local Small Claims Court. There are rules about what details your email must contain. For example, in the body of your email, you must include your court file number and your name.
Court staff will then review your request. They may contact you to ask for more information before deciding whether to approve your request for an urgent hearing. If it's approved, you will receive an email with the date of your hearing, how to attend, and a document to give to any responding parties.
If you don't have email access, you will have to go in person to your local courthouse to make your request for an urgent hearing.
Motions on notice to other parties
The court is accepting requests to schedule motions on notice. A motion “on notice” means that you have to the other parties in your case with court documents. These documents explain what the motion is about. The other parties then have a chance to respond before the judge makes a decision about your motion.
Examples of a “motion on notice” include motions to set aside noting in default and a motion for the court's permission to extend time to do something.
To get a hearing date for your motion, file your Form 15A Notice of Motion and Supporting Affidavit using the Submissions Online portal. Remember to swear your affidavit before you file it. Then follow the instructions on the Small Claims Court website when serving the other parties and filing documents.
Motions without Notice
The court is accepting requests for motions in writing without notice. “In writing” means that you don't have to go to a hearing for the motion. The judge makes a decision based on the documents you filed.
“Without notice” means that you don't have to serve documents on the other parties to tell them about your motion. The judge makes a decision without them knowing. The other parties get a copy of the decision only after it's made.
Examples of motions in writing without notice include motions for substituted service and motions for an assessment of .
For this type of motion, you must file these documents:
- Form 15A: and Supporting Affidavit,
- Form 8A: Affidavit of Service, if your motion is for an assessment of damages, and
- Your claim, if you haven't filed it already.
The Small Claims Court encourages you to file this type of motion online. Use the E-filing Service portal to file a motion in writing for an assessment of damages. You can file most other motions using the Submissions Online portal.
If you need legal information, read the questions about the Small Claims Court. For legal help, call Pro Bono Ontario's Free Legal Advice Hotline at 1-888-255-7256. You can get up to 30 minutes of free legal advice.