March 17, 2020
The Nunavut Court of Justice (NCJ) suspended regular operations, effective 5 p.m. on Monday, March 16, 2020. The suspension will be in effect until further notice. The decision to suspend operations was made to protect the health and safety of all community members and court users by aiding efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.
As Chief Justice, I have directed that emergency closure orders be issued, on a community-by-community basis, territory-wide. For the purposes of retaining jurisdiction in criminal law matters, each community-specific closure order provides for matters on cancelled circuits to be returned to court at 9:30 a.m. on the first day of the first scheduled circuit in the community after May 31, 2020. The NCJ will monitor all developments with COVID-19 and will amend return dates as appropriate.
Once the Iqaluit closure order has issued, criminal matters returnable in Iqaluit during the suspension period will have June 1, 2020, listed as a return date. The court directs you to the Notice to the Bar of Nunavut, March 16, 2020, for further information on the question of jurisdiction.
In addition to the cancellation of circuit courts, I directed that all jury trials scheduled to commence on or before May 31, 2020, are to be cancelled and spoken to at assignment court on June 1, 2020, to set a new trial date. For the information of the public, if you have received a summons to attend court for jury selection, that summons has been cancelled. YOU ARE NOT TO SHOW UP TO COURT for jury summons until you receive further written notice.
A. URGENT CRIMINAL MATTERS DURING THE SUSPENSION
The suspension of regular operations is not to be confused with the stoppage of court operations. The NCJ is still operational to ensure the continued administration of Justice in Nunavut. I will adopt the words and practices being undertaken by the Ontario Superior Court at this time. In a release dated March 15, 2020, Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz of the Ontario Superior Court eloquently and concisely stated:
The court will continue to hear urgent matters during this emergency period. The Court plays a fundamental role in our constitutional democracy. Access to justice for the most urgent matters is available. This Notice identifies the urgent criminal matters that will be heard during the suspension of operations and the process for bringing such matters before the Court.
Taking the Ontario Superior Court of Justice’s lead, criminal law procedures will be as follows:
- Judicial Pre-trial Conferences (PTCs)
- PTCs will be handled by phone
- Crown and Defence counsel will be required to file matters electronically with the trial coordinator;
- The court requests the cooperation of Crown and Defence in assisting to provide the court with the necessary material during off-site operations;
- All PTCs scheduled prior to March 17, 2020, are proceeding unless the presiding judge directs otherwise.
- All trials are adjourned unless ordered otherwise;
- Counsel shall appear in Iqaluit assignment court on June 1, 2020, to set new dates.
- Closure orders address and provide information relating to jurisdiction.
- In-person Access to NCJ
All in-person appearances are suspended, effective immediately.
- Bail, Bail Reviews and Detention Reviews
Bail, Bail Reviews and s. 525 Detention Reviews will continue to be available via telephone. The court will utilize to the fullest extent Criminal Code provisions permitting matters to be heard in the absence of the accused, or in the presence of the accused by way of telephone or, if available, videoconference. Parties are urged to provide consent to the use of these alternative processes to the fullest extent possible, where such consent is required.
Defence and Crown counsel should work together to arrange a date and the filing of materials through the trial coordinator.
- Guilty Pleas and Sentencing
Guilty pleas and sentencing can be dealt with remotely for persons in custody in urgent circumstances.
Counsel should book a PTC to make arrangements or file a supplemental docket request asking that the matter be brought forward
- Resumption of Normal Operations
In the weeks ahead, the NCJ will finalize a plan to resume regular operations. Criminal matters are scheduled to return in the first week of June in Iqaluit and on the first scheduled circuit on or after June 1 in the communities. However, if circumstances change and normal operations can resume earlier, the court will notify counsel, the Crown, community leaders, and institutions.
B. REGULAR FILINGS
Electronic filings may continue to occur. However, where procedural rules or court orders require the delivery of documents during this emergency period, and such delivery is not possible, parties can expect the Court to grant extensions of time once the Court’s normal operations resume. The court does not expect personal service of pleadings to take place during this extraordinary event related closure. The Court will also understand if a defence is not able to be delivered due to reasonable reasons, including the inability to retain and instruct counsel during this period. Return to procedural compliance will be expected within a reasonable amount of time after the re-opening of the court.
During this temporary suspension of regular operations, the Court calls upon the Crown, Defence and Bar to cooperatively engage in every effort to collaborate with each other and to aid the Court in dealing with urgent matters.
C. CIVIL MATTERS
All special chambers civil appearances have been adjourned sine die. Post June 1, 2020, a date will be provided to counsel and litigants by the trial coordinator to address all suspended civil matters.
Any child welfare matter required to be addressed in accordance with and within prescribed time lines will be heard, via phone. Currently docketed “chw” matters will be addressed as scheduled.
Every civil appearance, where required, will occur via phone.
All small claims matters are postponed until after June 1, 2020. If you have an on-going small claims court matter, please contact the trial coordinator after court operations have resumed.
D. THANK YOU AND STAY WELL
The efforts and procedures articulated above have been done with the primary consideration being given to the health and wellbeing of Nunavummiut. I look forward to working with counsel, justice stakeholders, community leaders and community members towards solving any procedural or substantive legal issues that may develop concerning the rights of Nunavummiut as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Working together, I am hopeful we can maintain your confidence in the administration of justice in Nunavut during these uncertain and troubling times. Thank you and stay well.
Nunavut Court of Justice