This is not your primary concern in this time of emergency during the COVID-19 pandemic. Eventually, however, you may wish to know what effect this emergency has on your rights, remedies and ongoing lawsuits, considering the virtual shutdown of our court systems, except for emergency matters.
According to Quebec’s Public Health Act, the government may declare a public health emergency in all or part of the territory of Quebec and this declaration is effective for a maximum period of 10 days, at the expiry of which it may be renewed as many times as necessary for a maximum period of 10 days for each renewal or, with the consent of the National Assembly, for a maximum period of 30 days. The declaration was issued March 13, 2020.
On March 15, 2020, the Chief Justice of Quebec and the Quebec Minister of Justice, under the authority granted to them in virtue of the Code of Civil Procedure, jointly issued a declaration to suspend all prescription periods and all procedural periods during the current crisis beginning with the declaration of the state of emergency that was issued on March 13, 2020. The suspension will last for as long as the original declaration of the state of emergency. If it were to be renewed, then the suspension will itself be renewed for an equivalent period.
For the time being, the government has other priorities and the justice system is adjusting accordingly. Only emergency cases as set out in a specific list or as determined by a judge of the appropriate court will proceed.
As well, in addition to the courts postponing non-urgent procedures, most, if not all, administrative tribunals in the province of Quebec have been or will be postponing procedures, except those that can be considered urgent. For example, most Rental Board hearings will not proceed unless they are such cases as can be considered emergencies.
You should not fear that this situation will cause you to lose your rights or cause you to have wasted your time in pursuing procedures which may expire. The declaration by the Minister of Justice and the Chief Justice has effectively granted an extension for all such matters and is likely to be renewed for one or more additional periods, until such time as the public health emergency is over.
What does this mean to you concretely? Two examples should clarify the situation.
First example: If you have a claim for an unpaid invoice of $200,000.00 and the invoice dates from March 20, 2017. Normally, you would have only until March 20, 2020, that is 3 years, to institute your lawsuit in order to collect. However, the government’s decree extends your deadline for a period of time equal to the state of emergency. If it lasts 5 weeks, you will get an additional 5 weeks.
Second example: On July 25, 2019, you instituted a lawsuit to sue for $80,725.41 in property damages that your insurance company refuses to pay. If the usual procedures are followed in your lawsuit, you could expect that you might normally have a deadline of March 30, 2020, to declare your lawsuit ready for trial or risk having the lawsuit deemed as being discontinued, forcing you to start all over. The suspension ordered by the Minister of Justice and Chief Justice of Quebec effectively extends that deadline for the period of the emergency.
After the government terminates the public health emergency, rights and procedures will resume as normal. In the meantime, it is anticipated that no person will lose their rights or their procedures due to the period of time that the public health emergency is in effect.
Franco Tamburro, Attorney-at-Law
Alepin Gauthier Avocats Inc.