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Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz sm

Ontario Superior Court temporarily suspends jury selection in Toronto, Ottawa and Brampton

Tuesday, October 13, 2020 @ 3:37 PM | By John Schofield

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice has announced that new jury selection is suspended for the next 28 days in Toronto, Brampton and Ottawa to align with the province’s return to “modified” stage 2 COVID-19 restrictions in those regions.

“I have made the difficult decision that our court must adjust our operations in those three centres,” Superior Court Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz said in an Oct. 9 notice to the profession and the public.

Superior Court Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz

The decision on whether to continue matters that are in progress, including jury trials, will be made by the trial judge, stated Justice Morawetz.

The notice stipulated that upcoming in-person non-jury trials and other in-person proceedings (including civil and family matters) in the Toronto, Ottawa and Brampton courthouses may proceed if they conform to the modified stage 2 indoor gathering limit of 10 people or fewer in the courtroom. “However,” it adds, “efforts should be made to hear matters remotely, wherever possible.”

Justice Morawetz noted that some counsel, parties and justice participants may be uncomfortable being in a courthouse at his time due to underlying health conditions, vulnerable family members or for other reasons related to the pandemic.

“In view of the concerning public health situation in these three centres, the Court must respond with great flexibility,” he wrote. “I have encouraged all judicial officers, when exercising their authority, to be flexible and to respect the various reasons why an individual may not be comfortable attending a courthouse in person.

“The feasibility of a virtual hearing is to be explored, when requested,” he added. “Similarly, I encourage counsel and parties to be accommodating when requests for virtual hearings are made by opposing counsel or parties.”

Justice Morawetz specifically thanked the Ministry of the Attorney General’s Recovery Secretariat for its “enormous efforts” in recent months to resume court operations and jury matters. The secretariat includes Dr. Michelle Murti, a Public Health Ontario physician specializing in communicable diseases and emergency preparedness, and Ron Kelusky, an assistant deputy minister in the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development and the chief prevention officer for Ontario.

“This is a very difficult time,” he concluded. “I did not make these decisions lightly. We must continue to do what we can to move matters forward but also to make every effort to support public health efforts to stabilize the situation.”

In another Oct. 9 notice, the Superior Court expanded the matters that can be heard virtually in small claims court. During the COVID-19 emergency period, it announced, small claims court will hear urgent motions and urgent garnishment hearings by telephone or videoconference.

In addition, all settlement conferences will be conducted over Zoom, unless a party indicates that they are unable to participate by Zoom. The court will make the arrangements for Zoom and will advise the parties of the connection arrangements.

The Ministry of the Attorney General also advised that counter services at small claims court locations are open and that counsel/representatives and parties are discouraged from physically attending courthouses to file documents in person.

More details are provided in the notice.

Announced by Premier Doug Ford on Oct. 9, the return to modified stage 2 restrictions in Toronto, Ottawa and Peel Region means, among other things, a temporary ban in those areas on indoor dining at restaurants and food courts, although takeout orders will be allowed to continue. The government has also ordered the closure of indoor gyms and fitness centres, indoor movie theatres, casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments, as well as personal care services where face coverings must be removed. Interactive exhibits with a high risk of personal contact in museums, galleries, zoos and other venues must also be closed.

The news release stated that schools, child care centres, before- and after-school programs, universities, colleges of applied arts and technology and private career colleges will remain open and are exempted from the gathering limits, but must follow public health guidelines. Places of worship will also remain open.

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