Written by Stuart Hankinson, Q.C., Jade Scrymgeour and Sharon Singh
On March 26, 2020, the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General issued Ministerial Order no. M086 titled Limitation Periods (COVID-19) Order (Order). The Order suspends certain limitations periods in the province of British Columbia, and will remain in effect until the state of emergency declared on March 18, 2020 expires or is cancelled.
What Is a Limitation Period?
Legal claims must be launched within a set time period. This time limit is called the “limitation period”, the duration of which turns on the type of claim and what court the claim will be filed in. Once the limitation period expires, the person loses the right to begin a legal case.
Why Was the Limitation Period Suspended?
On March 18, 2020, Chief Justice Hinkson of the British Columbia Supreme Court ordered the suspension of all regular operations, effective immediately and until further notice. On March 25, 2020, the Supreme Court Registries closed, and issued an announcement that they would no longer provide in-person services during the suspension of the Court's regular operations. While E-Filing is still available, most of the Court's, services remain inaccessible. Given these COVID-19 related delays, and in an effort to slow the spread of the virus, the Solicitor General issued the Order suspending most limitation periods.
What Does the Order Apply To?
The Order suspends every mandatory limitation period and other mandatory time period that is established in an enactment or law of British Columbia within which a civil or family action, proceeding, claim or appeal must be commenced in the Provincial Court, Supreme Court or Court of Appeal.
What Does the Order Not Apply To?
While the Order places a mandatory extension on time periods before British Columbia courts, the Order provides statutory decision makers with the option to suspend or extend a mandatory time period relating to their exercise of power. After all, tribunals are masters of their own procedure.
As a result, individuals appearing before tribunals should check the policy of that specific tribunal. As of March 27, 2020, the following tribunals have reported the following updates:
- The Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT)
The CRT remains open and fully operational, but in the interests of fairness will not be processing default decisions and orders until May 1, 2020. Furthermore, parties who have COVID-19 related issues which may impact their ability to participate in proceedings are asked to contact the CRT to receive an extension of time.
- The Residential Tenancy's Brach (RTB)
To encourage social distancing, in-person services are no longer available at the Burnaby RTB Office. That said, some documents can be submitted online. Further orders effecting the RTB's ability order evictions are anticipated, but have not been posted at this time.
- WorkSafe BC
During the COVID-19 situation, WorkSafeBC remains committed to providing services. Their call centers remain open, and they are continuing to adjudicate and manage new and existing claims.
As the province's response to the COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly evolving, we encourage readers to monitor official websites such as BC Courts and the respective websites of tribunals for up to date information. Moreover, readers must continue to monitor the reactivation of said limitation periods that would otherwise have expired.