The novel COVID-19 virus unexpectedly took the world by storm and fundamentally altered the way we live our lives. Countries, cities, families, and individuals have been profoundly impacted and continue to be as the virus rages on. The safety and health of my clients and staff are of utmost importance and my thoughts are with those who have been impacted.
In response to this, the courts were forced to almost immediately shut down and find a new way to proceed in this unprecedented time. It has taken a lot of hard work and the ingenuity of teams of people to sort out how an already backlogged court system can continue to operate in a new mainly virtual platform.
These changes have understandably caused much anxiety and stress for those who are before the courts awaiting resolution of their matters and for those who are charged during this time. My hope is to provide some guidance and clarification to help ease your mind as to what the courts and my office is doing to respond to this pandemic.
At the beginning of the pandemic, provincial docket and Case Management Office (CMO) matters scheduled between March 17 and May 22nd, 2020 were automatically adjourned (put over) for ten weeks to a new specified date without any appearance required. Only in custody matters were able to proceed. In the Court of Queen’s Bench only specific urgent and emergency matters could proceed. Urgent matters included detention and bail review orders, wiretap, production and related orders, and fresh arrest warrants. All other QB matters were automatically adjourned to a specified date.
A second wave of automatic adjournments then occurred. All provincial docket and CMO matters scheduled between May 11th and July 3rd, 2020 were automatically adjourned (put over) but this time for six weeks, to a new specified date.
The Traffic Counter was closed to the public and encouraged individuals to deal with their tickets online.
Access to the courthouse was restricted from the general public effective March 30, 2020. Lawyers were encouraged to use virtual methods (fax or email) for tasks such as filing.
Jury trials were cancelled until September 8, 2020.
The courts have begun slowly with phased reopening. Effective July 6, 2020 masks are required at the Calgary Courts Centre in all public areas. Despite court operations slowly resuming, virtual or remote appearance is still the norm and it is encouraged for individuals to remain at home and call in whenever the court rules allow. This is still the case for the CMO and the Traffic counter.
Court appearances are now being heard remotely via telephone or Webex. The physical attendance of accused persons is limited to matters whereby it is absolutely required such for certain sentencings/dispositions. I have been making all appearances for my clients and if I am retained, attendance is not required unless I direct otherwise.
Trials and preliminary hearings are now beginning to resume and are being booked in a priority manner and into the new year.
Regional courts have been divided into two base point locations that are open for limited operations and via primarily remote means. Calgary base point hears all matters arising from Airdrie, Canmore, Cochrane, Didsbury, Okotoks, Tsuu T’ina, and Turner Valley. Drumheller base point hears all matters arising from Strathmore, Hanna, and Siksika. Call ahead before going to any rural courthouse as they are likely closed. Your rural matter will be dealt with via phone in a courtroom of the appropriate base point location or through Regional CMO.
Most importantly, if you do not call either on or before your scheduled court appearance, a warrant may be issued for your arrest.
For more information, the Alberta Court’s website releases frequent updates and practice notes with the specific rules for each court.
What My Firm Is Doing
Where possible, as an alternative to in person meetings, I have been available by phone to speak with clients and have been scheduling phone meetings. Should you wish to visit virtually with me, I am happy to accommodate Skype or Zoom meetings. If you have a matter you wish to speak with me about in person, I am able to accommodate this with appropriate personal protective equipment such as masks and sanitizer.
For clients or accused persons in custody in remand/pre-trial facilities, please call me and I will speak with you over the phone. If I have something to pass along to you, I will call the centre and leave a message for you to give me a call or I will schedule a phone call. If you wish, I am also able to set up a CCTV meeting with you, so we can meet virtually. As per the centre’s direction, we will offer in person meetings/visits as they gradually open. As it stands, limited in person meetings through the visiting glass cubicles are allowed for the purpose of having documents signed.
While the future is still uncertain, my office will continue to follow Alberta Health Services, Alberta Courts, and the City of Calgary guidelines and directives as to updates or changes. You may find it helpful to visit their websites as updates are posted regularly.
The “Jordan” rule limiting the time deemed reasonable for courts to hear cases before charges will be stayed, has yet to be determined how it may be applied to cases delayed extensively due to this pandemic. The rule allows for some exceptions in unforeseen or unavoidable circumstances not easily remedied; this may be one such circumstance.