BLOG | APRIL 20, 2020

COVID-19 and What the Courts Define as Urgent

We are witnessing history in the making. The recent shut down of the Courts is unprecedented and the ramifications of the novel coronavirus will not be known for months to come. For many people who have cases in the Ontario Court of Justice, the delay may double the time it takes for their cases to be heard. The reality of how the backlog of cases will be dealt with, will not be truly understood until the ten weeks are over. However, the uncertainty of when someone will see the conclusion of their case seems to be the last of people’s worries. The hysteria of the coronavirus pandemic, the plummeting stock market, unemployment and forced isolation are disheartening prospects.

The only solace that some people can find in these trying times is the comfort of being together with family. For many who are awaiting determinations of access and custody in Family Court, they will not be allowed to see their loved ones until they have their time in court. We have many clients who have been waiting for months in order to get decisions for access and custody. They feel that it is an issue that is urgent enough to be heard while the pandemic is still ongoing. However, the courts do not share their sentiment. Below is what the Ontario Courts deem urgent (as per their website):

Urgent family matters will proceed on a prioritized basis.  These matters include:

  • Child, Youth and Family Services Act: place of safety hearings (s. 90); temporary care and custody hearings (s. 94), restraining orders (s. 137), status review hearings (s. 113), and secure treatment orders (s. 161);
  • Domestic matters: urgent custody/access motions; motions for restraining orders; Hague applications and non-Hague abduction cases; and

Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act: refraining motions (s.35).

As one can see, what the courts deem to be urgent is not an exhaustive list. Urgent relief relating to the safety of a child or parent are at the top of the list of what the court defines as urgent. Child protection cases with urgent motions, hearings and statutorily mandated events will continue to be heard. Other issues considered urgent are determinations relating to the well-being of a child including essential medical decision, wrongful removal or retention of a child. Dire issues regarding a party’s financial circumstance where a non-depletion order may be necessary can be considered as urgent.

Client’s lawyers will need to search for alternatives so that parents may have some access to children through video or telephone calls that have been consented to by the parties involved. However, for some parent’s they will have no control in what access or custody they may receive and must live with the fact that they may not see or hear from their children until after the 8 to12 week period is over. These measures are put into place so the spread of the COVID-19 virus can be slowed. For those looking to see their children in these uncertain times, they should not react in a way that may jeopardize the prospect of future access and custody until the court system is back up to full speed.

While not being able to see your loved ones will be difficult, the shutdown of civil courts will make it difficult for parties involved in civil litigation to continue their financial obligations or receive the relief they need. However, the list of cases, motions and hearings considered urgent in the civil and commercial courts are considerable shorter than what is being heard in the Family courts. Only time-sensitive, urgent cases where immediate and significant financial repercussions may result if there is no judicial hearing and outstanding warrants issued in Small Claims Court or Superior Court civil proceedings will continue. Once again, how the courts look to each one of these cases individually will be important. What will be considered urgent in these terms will be looked at on a case by case basis and the expectation should be that regardless of what court your case is in, there will be delays.

There have been a lot of questions by Landlords and Tenants alike. This is a good article which states that rent is still due but Landlords please try and help the tenants as much as you can. We are in unprecedented times and humanity should prevail.
 Click here to learn more.

By Vibeeshan Mahendran, L.L.B., B.A (Honours),  Student-at-Law

Photo by Timothy L Brock on Unsplash

For any inquiries regarding power of attorney or estate matters, you can contact us by email at or by phone at 416-902-8225.

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