Focus On

Nunavut court going remote during shutdown

Thursday, November 19, 2020 @ 1:12 PM | By Terry Davidson


Nunavut’s Court of Justice (NCJ) will lean on remote communications during an emergency closure it enacted after the territory shut down due to a sudden rise in COVID-19.

Late on Nov. 18, Acting Chief Justice Bonnie Tulloch issued a notice to the profession, the media and the public, detailing how the court will deal with the move of suspending regular operations until Jan. 11, 2021.

The Emergency Closure Order (ECO) includes all scheduled sittings at the courthouse in Iqaluit, as well as circuit courts outside the city.

The circuits will suspend regular operations for the remainder of 2020. Separate ECOs will be issued for each community impacted by a cancelled circuit court.

Civil matters that were set to be heard in court have been adjourned indefinitely. Involved parties will be contacted about rescheduling upon the lifting of the suspension.

According to a preliminary notice issued Nov. 17, some in-court matters will not resume until later in January.

All in-person criminal out-of-custody matters in Iqaluit are suspended until Jan. 18, and in-custody matters will not move forward until Jan. 19.

But Chief Justice Tulloch has placed on the table an option courts across Canada have turned to since the start of the pandemic last fall: remote communications.

“I want to make it clear that while regular operations have been suspended, the NCJ remains open to hear matters counsel and/or litigants wish to bring forward to address remotely,” states Chief Justice Tulloch. “Counsel have been advised that any matter they feel can be addressed remotely may be added to a docket by simply notifying the civil registry or criminal registry via email (ncj.civil@gov.nu.ca and ncj.criminal@gov.nu.ca). We have dispensed with the requirement to file a bring forward request utilizing a Form 10B through to January 8, 2021.”

She noted that resident judges have been assigned as “duty judges” during the suspension.

“Judges will thus have good availability to hear matters that have been brought forward. Additionally, Section 525 detention reviews will continue to be scheduled as they are bought to Chambers’ attention. Court Services has advised they will have a skeletal staff available onsite to administer the hearings that are brought forward.”

Chief Justice Tulloch stated that bail hearings could continue remotely, as could Family Abuse and Intervention Act hearings, child welfare matters and guardianship matters.

Chambers will also continue to hold judicial pretrial conferences, including those previously scheduled.

“The decision to suspend regular operations was based solely on pressing public health considerations,” stated Chief Justice Tulloch. “I sincerely hope this temporary suspension will assist in the efforts to protect the health and safety of all Nunavummiut.”

The court’s ECO came right after Nunavut’s enacting of a mandatory two-week lockdown that will see the closure of all non-essential services, businesses and organizations.

Working from home is being encouraged, and residents are being advised to avoid any non-essential travel.

Schools have closed and have moved to remote learning, and childcare centres have been shuttered to all but essential workers.

Both outdoor and indoor gatherings have been limited to five people in addition to household members.

“As we see more cases in our communities, it is vital we look at ways to break potential transmission of COVID-19 in the territory,” said Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer. “Limiting any potential exposure to the virus is our best possible defence in Nunavut. We will re-evaluate the effectiveness of these measures on December 2, to determine if they need to continue or are working the way we hope.”

Nunavut confirmed its first case of COVID-19 Nov. 6 after someone tested positive in Sanikiluaq.

It has been spreading quickly in the territory ever since.

On Nov. 19, Nunavut’s government reported four new cases as of midday, bringing the total confirmed cases in the territory to 74.

Currently, there are 57 cases in Arviat, seven in Rankin Inlet, eight in Whale Cove and two in Sanikiluaq.

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for The Lawyer’s Daily, please contact Terry Davidson at t.davidson@lexisnexis.ca or call 905-415-5899.