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. And while the court is accepting applications for new cases, it’s hearing only certain types of cases. See “Types of cases being heard” below for more information. All other cases are on hold.

Time limits

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 papers

You’re encouraged to use the Small Claims Court online filing service to start a case. There’s a guide to help you through the process.

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 online portal. If you choose to email the court, make sure to follow the rules about what your email must look like. For more information, check the court’s website.

If you cannot use email to file your documents, contact the court in person. 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. The court is not available by phone.

Virtual hearings

Hearings are being held by video conference using Zoom. 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.

If you have a date for a hearing and cannot use Zoom, ask the court to schedule a hearing by phone. You can ask for this by email. You can also ask in person, but only if you don’t have email access. The court’s tip sheet on hearings can help you prepare for your hearing.

Types of cases being heard

The court is currently hearing only these types of cases:

  • Certain types of urgent matters
  • Settlement conferences
  • Motions on notice to other parties
  • Motions without notice
  • Assessment hearings

Urgent matters

The court is hearing some urgent motions and urgent hearings, in these situations:

  • 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 was no hearing.

To request an urgent hearing, email 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 where to email your documents.

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.

Settlement conferences

As of April 12, 2021, court staff will automatically schedule your after the files their Defence. A Notice of Settlement Conference will be sent to both the and the defendant.

If the defendant filed their Defence before April 12, 2021, the plaintiff usually had to submit a request form to get a settlement conference. The court is still working through the request forms they’ve received. If a request has not been filed, then court staff will contact all parties. It might be a long time before you get a settlement conference date.

Motions on notice to other parties

The court is hearing requests to decide 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, email your local Small Claims Court. Then follow the instructions on the Small Claims Court website when serving the other parties and filing documents.

If you cannot use email, you need to go in person to your local court to make your motion request.

Motions without Notice

The court is hearing 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:

  1. Form 15A: and Supporting Affidavit,
  2. Form 8A: Affidavit of Service, if your motion is for an assessment of damages, and
  3. Your claim, if you haven’t filed it already.

Assessment hearings

The court is accepting requests to process assessment hearings. An assessment hearing is a hearing where defendants are not allowed to participate. See I filed online for non-liquidated damages. Can I get default judgment? for more information on this type of hearing.

To request an assessment hearing, you must have already filed:

  1. Your claim
  2. Form 8A: Affidavit of Service, to show that you’ve served your claim
  3. Form 9B: Request to Clerk
  4. Any documents and evidence that you plan to use at the hearing.

Legal help

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.

For specific questions about your case, contact your local Small Claims Court by email or in person. Remember that the court staff cannot give you legal advice.

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