Are the Ontario Courts closed during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The Ontario Courts of Justice for Provincial Offences were closed across the Province beginning March 17, 2020 and have been closed to the public since. Various Municipalities began to open their doors to the public for the “window wickets” in order to file tickets and/or pay fines. There were a few more functions they would permit, though it was limited and variant across the Province. After changes were made to the legislation, various Courts that were equipped with Electronic means could proceed with Electronic Resolutions, to resolve their tickets. It is only applicable to Part 1 Proceedings (the tickets that have the fine on the bottom) and was all conducted over the phone. Those processes, depending upon the location of the Court began electronic proceedings in June of 2020. It was a whole new meaning to a three-way phone conversation and for those technically advanced courts, it was a four-way conversation.
In September of 2020, Part 3 matters (those tickets with dates and locations on the bottom) were able to proceed by Electronic means. Part 3 electronic appearances are very limited as to what can occur. You only have the option of adjourning your matter or pleading guilty. The Courts that had prior electronic means, began these proceedings in late August and early September. The remainder of the Courts have been “playing catch up” to update their systems to accommodate electronic means. One wonders, what have they been doing since March??? As those Courts slowly have adapted to accommodate electronic means, many people across the province had to appear at various courts as the ticket indicated. Of more concern, certain people received letters from the Court, indicating their matters would be proceeding by electronic means with specified dates and times. (This is controversial and will be discussed below)
Tickets issued between March 17, 2020 and Today
Those of you that received tickets from March 17 to today, have had your limitations periods all suspended. Under an Order pursuant to section 85, The Chief Justice of Ontario has constantly and repeatedly extended all the time sensitive sections of the Provincial Offences Act to the latest date of February 26, 2021. That means you have more than the 15 days indicated on the back of the ticket to file the ticket by selecting one of the options with the Court. There are multiple other extensions for various situations, which are automatically deferred to February 26, 2021 as well.
As for the Part 3’s, and in-court appearances and/or proceedings, they have all been cancelled until at least January 22, 2021, the Chief Justice of Ontario further goes on to indicate that all Courts will be able to proceed electronically by January 25, 2021. Who would have thought that setting-up phone lines would take almost a year, particularly in the Country where telecommunications were invented? That is why many of you see dates in the next year to appear for allegedly committing an offence in August of 2020. These dates are tentative, as well, and will further be extended if Covid-19 numbers (or the vaccinations) don’t slow the spread.
Electronic options are available for some jurisdictions
In some jurisdictions, some of you are fortunate enough to be able to proceed by electronic means! This means you will have to either phone the court or via webcam (Zoom, etc) to address your matter. As the Province rolls out the full electronic platform across all the jurisdictions in the province, you all should have your chance after January 25, 2021 to do so. Many have received letters from the Court regarding their ticket, indicating the time/date and a phone number/weblink to follow. For Part 1 offences, these are permitted and legislated, including the recent change to eliminate the distance requirement for these proceedings. Therefore, you should follow the instructions listed or else you will be convicted in your absence. Be wary, as postal issues are resulting in persons not receiving their Notice of Electronic Meeting, until after the hearing date. That is a Postal issue and not a Court issue, which will result in further actions to be taken by you to have your day in Court. As for the letters regarding Part 3 matters, the contention is that there is nothing legislated to allow for this type of notification/notice. The legislation allows for the Lieutenant-Governor to enact Regulations to do so, though Ontario Government has not done so to date. As well, certain courts have included a little paragraph that advises of warrants, if you fail to attend. These are extremely contentious, and you should seek legal advice from a licensed legal service provider, if you are uncertain how you wish to proceed.
Hence, Covid-19 has not closed the Courts, though it has hampered and slowed them even more than they were prior to the pandemic. Slowly and surely, they are re-opening, with modern technical advancements (even though the phone has been around for over a century) and will be able to accommodate the numerous violations that occur on Ontario streets, as soon as possible.
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