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COVID-19 Coronavirus Criminal Court Updates

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on criminal law in Ontario. The pandemic has caused numerous effects on criminal cases including extended periods of court closures, case delays, and suspension of certain limitations periods.

This page will summarize the current impact on the criminal justice system in Ontario as well as provide an overview of previous measures taken in the province.

Note
The impact of COVID-19 in the criminal courts is constantly evolving. This page is updated as of November 2020 and will be periodically updated.

What Steps An Accused Should Take During COVID

The most important thing for an accused to do amidst the COVID pandemic is to remain vigilant in moving their case forward. It is imperative that you not wait for court operations to go back to normal before retaining a defence lawyer.

In order to mount a successful Jordan application demonstrating that your case was not tried within a reasonable time, you must show that you took all reasonable steps to move the case forward. During COVID, steps can still be taken such as requesting and reviewing disclosure, conducting Counsel Pre-Trial and Judicial Pre-Trial meetings, interviewing witnesses, and preparing trial materials.

Accused who act quickly and decisively may be able to take advantage of favourable Crown resolution positions, including having their charges withdrawn. Contact Pyzer Criminal Lawyers today to learn more about how we can help you receive the best possible outcome in your criminal charges.

Case Delays

One of the most significant impacts on criminal cases due to COVID-19 is case delays. Section 11(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that individuals be tried within a reasonable period of time. R v Jordan identified a presumptive ceiling of 18 months for cases going to trial in provincial court and 30 months for cases going to trial in Superior Court.

Due to complete court closures between March 2020 and June 2020, there have been and will continue to be significant delays in bringing matters to trial. It is unclear how these delays may be treated in light of Jordan.

Implementation of Zoom / Audio Appearances

COVID-19 has accelerated the digitalization of the criminal justice system in Ontario. Many routine appearances such as adjournments and pleas are now being conducted via telephone and video conference. These alternative methods of attending court are likely to continue post-COVID as they represent streamlined access to both lawyers and accused to attend court without having to physically go to a courthouse.

Limitation Period Suspensions

On March 20, 2020, the Ontario Government passed regulations under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act which suspended limitation periods for any Province of Ontario statute such as the Highway Traffic Act. These suspensions were lifted as of Monday, September 14, 2020 under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act.

Proceedings commenced under federal statutes such as the Criminal Code were not suspended during this time. As always, there is a 12 month limitation period in which an accused may be charged in a summary offence and there is no limitation period on indictable offences.
Electronic Filing and Signing of Documents
The Ontario Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal are now allowing the filing of documents via email. Counsel for an accused can send an email to the respective courthouse containing the following information

The subject line should include the following information, unless otherwise specified in a Practice Direction or Notice issued by the Court:

  • LEVEL OF COURT (OCJ)
  • TYPE OF MATTER (Criminal)
  • INFORMATION NUMBER or ACCUSED NAME
  • TYPE OF DOCUMENT (Bring Forward Request, Trial Application to Exclude Evidence, Other Request)

The body of the email should include the following information if applicable:

  • The Information file number (if known)
  • Name and date of birth of the accused and charge(s)
  • Details of next scheduled court appearance (date, courtroom and nature of appearance)
  • Note: if unsure of the next court date, include details of the last scheduled court appearance
  • If a particular judicial officer is seized with the matter, the name of the officer.
  • Nature of filing / request (e.g. bring forward request, probation variation)
  • List and description of documents attached (note: attachments cannot exceed 35MB)
  • Confirmation of service, setting out when and how any other party was served.
  • Name, role (i.e. lawyer, agent, Crown, defence, etc.,) and contact information of the person submitting the request (email and phone number).

The Ontario Court of Justice also began accepting documents that were signed electronically in order to better accommodate documents which may not be able to be physically signed.

Court Closures

From March 28, 2020 to July 6, 2020, the Ontario Court of Justice was closed for all in person matters. POA matters were adjourned during this time and did not resume until October 2020.

In-person operations for criminal matters officially resumed on July 6, 2020, however many courts were still conducting appearances primarily via telephone and Zoom. There was a 10 person limit in the courtroom during this time.

In August 2020, courts began resuming in-person trials and preliminary inquiries in many courthouses across Ontario. For POA matters, in-person appearances have been adjourned until January 2021.

Starting in November 2020, jury trials have started to recommence in some courthouses in Ontario. Prior to this time, some charges in matters were modified in order to accommodate trial by judge only.

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