ACTLA COVID-19 Pandemic Updates and FAQs

The ACTLA Covid-19 Emergency Response Team has developed this page to assist our members along with other members of the Alberta bar and the public during this unprecedented period of time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had and continues to have an unheard-of impact on both a global and national scale. The ACTLA Executive recognizes the potential impact this period of social distancing, self-isolation and health concerns will have on both our members and those we represent, and can assure you that we are taking action to do everything in our power to minimize this impact.

The Emergency Response Team was formed on March 25, 2020 and has since been taking action towards our mandate: to be a contributor to access to justice during this public health emergency by ensuring that Albertans continue to receive access to justice and that civil litigators continue to be able to run their practices.

Our priorities include:

  1. Advocacy for Access to Justice: ensuring proper consideration of legislation and rules regarding all limitations and deadlines applicable to civil litigation.
  2. Providing resources and coordinating efforts to assist members.
  3. Communication with stakeholders to ensure that our members and their clients can continue to move claims forward.

We will continue to update this FAQ page as the situation evolves. Check back frequently for updates.

If you have a question that isn’t currently answered on this page, please email info@actla.com and we will do our best to answer it.

Technical questions around law society rules, legislation, rules of court and limitations/deadlines

  • Q: What is happening with respect to suspension of limitation periods, deadlines and drop dead/delay rules that relate to civil litigation?

A: The Minister of Justice and Solicitor General has issued a Ministerial Order dated March 30, 2020 to suspend limitation periods and periods of times within which any step must be taken in any proceeding or intended proceeding in a number of enactments. The suspension is effective from March 17, 2020 to June 1, 2020.

It is important to note that this Order applies only to enactments and not to deadlines or limitations set out in Court Orders. It is also important to understand that this Order only suspends limitations in the enactments specified in Appendix A to the Order – it does not create a blanket suspension. It does not apply to any enactments that fall outside of the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice and does not apply to enactments not specifically listed in Appendix A.

We recommend reviewing other Ministerial Orders to determine if a similar suspension has been put into place prior to relying on an expectation that a limitation set out in any enactment not specified in Appendix A is also suspended. All Ministerial Orders stemming from COVID-19 can be found here: https://www.alberta.ca/covid-19-orders-and-legislation.aspx

In addition, the Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta has issued an Amended Master Order #3 - English and French Versions - April 23, 2020 and Master Order #4 - COVID-19 - May 14, 2020, which suspend all filing deadlines under the Alberta Rules of Court, including Rule 13.41(4), with the exception of those Rules applicable to the commencement of proceedings, including originating applications until June 26, 2020.

The ACTLA COVID-19 Emergency Response Team (the “ACTLA ERT”) has identified concerns with the Ministerial Order that from our perspective, are not addressed by the Amended Master Order #3, including:

  1. The absence of any order providing for a suspension of limitations and deadlines in enactments not caught by the Ministerial Order 27/2020, including but not limited to the Insurance Act, the Builder’s Lien Act and the Municipal Government Act.
  2. the suspension of any period of time within which any step must be taken in any proceeding or intended proceeding remaining subject to the discretion of the court, tribunal or other decision-maker, thereby creating uncertainty for those who need to rely on the suspension.

The ACTLA ERT has voiced these concerns in stakeholder meetings with the Courts, CBA and LSA and has proposed solutions that could be enacted by the Courts and/or the appropriate Ministries to address these concerns. We have been advised that it is the view of the Courts and the Ministry that the Orders that currently stand do achieve their intended goal and expanded suspension orders (aside from those that may be required extending the suspension period) are not expected. We will continue to follow up with the Courts in an effort to provide clarity to our members and the public on any ongoing concerns or clarity required with the suspension orders. 

It is important to note that none of the Orders suspend any deadlines set by Court Order. It is expected that the parties will act reasonably in revising any court-ordered deadlines as required.

Q: Can electronic signatures be used to execute documents?

A: The Electronic Transactions Act confirms that subject to certain exceptions, a legal requirement that a record be signed is satisfied by an electronic signature. Section 7 of the Act specifically stipulates that it does not apply to testamentary documents and documents of title. Lawyers should review the Act to ensure that the document being executed does not fall within the exceptions specified.

  • Q: Can documents be commissioned or notarized remotely during the Pandemic?

A: The Government of Alberta has recently issued a temporary Ministerial Order permitting lawyers to witness and to commission and notarize land titles documents by video conference.

The Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta has issued a notice providing for some accommodations for affidavits to be used in that Court. It permits the commissioning of affidavits using video technology and provides detailed guidance with regard to the required steps a commissioner will need to take.

  • Q: What is being heard by the Courts and where can I find updates?

A: Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta

As set out in the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta Amended Master Order #3 - English and French Versions - April 23, 2020 and Master Order #4 - COVID-19 - May 14, 2020, all civil and family matters scheduled for hearing from March 16, 2020 to June 26, 2020 are adjourned sine die, unless otherwise directed by the Court.

The Court of Queen’s Bench will continue to hear emergency and urgent civil matters, defined at Appendix D to the Amended Master Order #3.

Parties and/or Counsel who believe that their matter is urgent may submit a request through the online Emergency / Urgent Hearing Request form.

The CBA recently presented “Message from our Chief Justice Video” via online webinar. The video recording is available on the CBA website.

Provincial Court of Alberta

As set out in the Provincial Court of Alberta Master Order Relating to Court's Response to COVID-19 dated April 1, 2020, all civil matters coming for hearing from March 15, 2020 to and including May 22, 2020, unless otherwise specified, including but not limited to applications, pre-trial conferences, case management conferences, assessments, trials or binding judicial dispute resolution proceedings are adjourned sine die.

The Provincial Court of Alberta will continue to deal with emergency and urgent matters pursuant to the Provincial Court Announcements.

The CBA recently presented “Remark from the Provincial Court of Alberta” via online webinar. The video recording is available on the CBA website.

The Alberta Courts recently released a letter dated May 6, 2020 wherein they update the Bar on the Courts’ responses to COVID-19.

  • Q: Where can I find Ministerial Orders that affect my practice?

A: Generally, all Alberta Ministerial Orders can be found on the Government of Alberta Publications webpage: https://open.alberta.ca/publications. Those that have arisen as a result of the pandemic, can be found here: https://www.alberta.ca/covid-19-orders-and-legislation.aspx

The specific Ministerial Order dated March 30, 2020, which suspended limitation periods and periods of times within which any step must be taken in any proceeding or intended proceeding in a number of enactments can be seen here: https://open.alberta.ca/publications/ministerial-order-27-2020-justice-and-solicitor-general

  • Q: Are the Courts hearing ex parte applications?

A: The Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta announced on May 11, 2020 that ex parte applications within the Masters’ jurisdiction are now being dealt with province-wide by way of desk application. Details are available on the Courts website at the following link: ELECTRONIC WITHOUT NOTICE APPLICATIONS - MASTERS JURISDICTION

Practical Solutions for Continuing your Practice

  • Q: How can I identify or verify the identity of a client remotely?

A: From the Law Society of Alberta website at https://www.lawsociety.ab.ca/about-us/key-initiatives/covid-19-updates/covid-19-faqs/

The client identification and verification requirements in Rules 118.1-118.11 continue to apply.

Client Identification involves obtaining certain basic information about the client and any third party directing or instructing the client, such as a name and address. This information is required whenever a lawyer is retained to provide legal services to a client, unless an exemption applies. This step can be done over the phone or by video conference. There is no requirement that it be completed face-to-face.

Client Verification involves reviewing an original identifying document from an independent source, to confirm the identity of clients and third parties. Lawyers are only required to verify the identity of clients and third parties if they are involved in a funds transfer activity, where the lawyer engages in or instructs the payment, receipt or transfer of funds, and an exemption does not apply.

The rules permit lawyers to verify a client’s identity by two methods that do not require meeting face-to-face with the client – the dual process method or using information in a client’s credit file.

Until further notice, the Law Society will not require lawyers to verify the identity of a client by requiring the lawyer to be in the physical presence of the client. Alternative means of verification, such as face-to-face verification via video conference, will be permitted temporarily. This is an interim measure and should not be continued after the current health crisis resolves.

If lawyers choose to verify clients’ identity via video conference, they must attempt to manage some of the risks associated with this practice, as outlined below:

  • Ensure that the government-issued identification is valid and current;
  • Compare the image in the government-issued identification with the client to be reasonably satisfied that it is the same person;
  • Record the method used to verify the client’s identification and the applicable date;
  • Treat the transaction as a high-risk transaction and continue to monitor the business relationship as a high risk transaction; and
  • Document the efforts made to verify the client’s identity in accordance with the existing rules, and the reasons why the lawyer was unable to verify the client’s identity in accordance with the existing rules.

Lawyers should also remember that they do not need to verify the identity of clients for all matters. Keep in mind the distinction between identifying and verifying the identity of a client. If only client identification is required, lawyers are able to comply with their professional obligations without meeting in-person or via video conference.

Further information on client verification requirements and how to manage risk associated is available on the Law Society of Alberta website.

  • Q: Can I rely on an expired license for client verification?

A: The Alberta government has extended the validity of identification documents including driver’s licenses, that have expired on or after March 1, 2020 so that in-person visits to renewal facilities can be avoided. Albertans who have birthdays from March 17 through May 14 and whose cards expire this year now have until May 15, 2020 to renew.

For more information, visit: https://www.alberta.ca/renew-replace-drivers-licence.aspx

  • Q: How can I communicate with clients while practicing social distancing?

A: The Government and public health officials have recommended that a number of measures, including social distancing, be taken during this pandemic. Lawyers can maintain their practice while following these recommendations by utilizing email, telephone and videoconferencing for communications with clients (as well as opposing counsel and coworkers). There are a number of video-conferencing platforms available, including Zoom, Skype, FaceTime and WebEx. 

A lawyer’s obligation to maintain effective communication with their clients continues during this pandemic so the important thing is to ensure that your clients continue to have a safe means by which to contact you.

  • Q: How do I go about meeting with and being retained by potential clients?

A: While this will depend on both yours and the potential client’s preferences, scheduling a video-conference call is a great way to proceed with a client consultation while maintaining social distancing. ACTLA recently hosted a webinar entitled Virtual Meeting with Clients, Employees and Lawyers, wherein this specific topic was discussed. Constantine Pefanis, Past President of ACTLA and panelist on the webinar, provided a sample letter to potential clients, which he has generously agreed to share more widely through this forum. This sample letter is not intended to be relied on as legal advice and is provided only as an example.

  • Q: If I am required to meet with clients or others in person, what can I do to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19?

A: If dealing with a matter that requires an in-person meeting, every effort should be made to reduce the risk of transmission, including:

  • Ensuring that no one attending the meeting has travelled out of the country in the last 14 days or is currently or has recently experienced COVID-type symptoms.
  • Maintaining a physical distance of 6’.
  • Avoiding any physical contact or touching of common surfaces.
  • Having hand sanitizer available.
  • Wearing a mask.
  • Q: How do I set up a basic remote home office?

A: ACTLA recently presented a webinar entitled Virtual Meeting with Clients, Employees and Lawyers. One of the topics covered in this webinar was how to set up a home office for under $1,000. ACTLA will be making the recording of this webinar accessible to all members. Please check back or contact the office at info@actla.com if you would like to receive a copy of the recording. 

  • Q: Should I be doing Questionings by videoconference?

A: Whether a Questioning can and should proceed by videoconference is a decision to be made by the respective parties to a proceeding and will depend on the nature of the questioning, availability of technology to the parties involved and complexity of the matter.

Should the parties opt to proceed with questioning by videoconference, there are a number of issues that need to be agreed upon in advance including the video-conferencing platform to be used, how to share documents during the questioning, etc.

To assist with this, the Alberta Protocol for Remote Questioning May 2020 was developed. This Protocol, created during the COVID-19 pandemic, is the product of the efforts of a working group of lawyers, including ACTLA.  

  • Q: How do I get my “urgent” matter heard by the Court?

A: If you have a Queen’s Bench matter that you consider to be emergent/urgent, you can complete a request to have that heard at the following page of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench website: https://www.albertacourts.ca/qb/court-operations-schedules/urgent.

As set out on the Provincial Court of Alberta website at https://www.albertacourts.ca/pc/resources/covid/covid-19-civil-matters, if a litigant feels their matter is urgent they are to contact the clerks' office who will refer it to a judge to determine the urgency.

Miscellaneous

  • Q: What steps is ACTLA taking on behalf of its members in relation to this pandemic?

A: ACTLA formed a COVID-19 Emergency Response Team, the mandate and priorities of which are set out at the top of this page. The team has been working with various other stakeholders, including the Courts, the CBA, the LSA and the Advocate’s Society to address the issues specific to civil litigants arising from this pandemic.

The following is a brief summary of some of the initiatives taken by the ACTLA COVID-19 Emergency Response Team:

  • Liaising with and providing feedback to the Courts to ensure access to justice for civil litigants continues during this pandemic.
  • Working with the ACTLA seminars committee to put on free virtual seminars on topics specific to the pandemic.
  • Communicating with our members on governmental, court and other relevant developments related to COVID.
  • Drafting proposed language and advocating for revisions to the suspension of limitations and deadlines to ensure all relevant limitations/deadlines are included and provide greater certainty to members or clients who need to rely on the suspension.
  • Collaborating with other stakeholders on a Questioning by Videoconference Protocol.

If you have specific questions or concerns you would like addressed by the ACTLA COVID-19 Emergency Response Team, please send those to info@actla.com.

  • Q: Is ACTLA still putting on its seminars?

A: In addition to putting on additional complimentary seminars on topics specific to running a civil litigation practice in the face of COVID, ACTLA is taking steps to ensure that our previously planned seminars can proceed in a way that follows the ban on large gatherings and social distancing recommendations. The June 2020 seminar, Fighting the Good Fight (Plaintiff PI Lawyers Only), has gone virtual. It will be presented by Zoom webinar. Register today by sending in this registration form.

  • Q: What government subsidies are available to my firm and/or my employees?

A: There are a number of supports and subsidies that have been announced by the Government to assist both businesses and individual employees impacted by COVID-19. We suggest you refer to the following government web-pages for more information:

https://www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/economic-response-plan.html

https://www.alberta.ca/covid-19-supports-for-albertans.aspx

https://www.alberta.ca/covid-19-financial-support-for-businesses-and-organizations.aspx

  • Q: What changes have been made to articling requirements in Alberta?

A: In response to concerns from both students and the profession resulting from the pandemic, the Law Society of Alberta has made changes o the articling requirements and has increased the Practice Readiness Education Program (PREP) subsidy to add flexibility for firms and organizations as they navigate the articling period.

Effective April 6, 2020, the articling term in Alberta changes to a minimum of eight months and a maximum of twelve months for any student-at-law enrolled after January 1, 2019. Students clerking with the Courts can now spend a minimum of eight months to a maximum of 10 months at the Courts, and then complete a minimum of three months to a maximum of five months with an active member of the Law Society.

The Law Society of Alberta has increased the subsidy provided to the Canadian Centre for Professional Legal Education’s PREP students by $1,000, thereby reducing the tuition payable by the students or their firm from $3,600 to $2,600 per student for students who commence PREP in 2020.

For more information on changes to articling requirements and PREP subsidy due to COVID-19, visit https://myemail.constantcontact.com/COVID-19-Update--Changes-to-Articling-Requirements-and-PREP-Subsidy--Employment-Standards-Reminders--Provincial-Court-Announceme.html?soid=1127621477491&aid=Y_4Kxjd-VVM  

 

Additional Resources:

Alberta Health Services - COVID-19 self-assessment and COVID-19 updates - https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/topics/Page16944.aspx

Alberta Government – COVID-19 Info for Albertans - https://www.alberta.ca/coronavirus-info-for-albertans.aspx

Law Society of Alberta - COVID-19 updates and FAQs - https://www.lawsociety.ab.ca/about-us/key-initiatives/covid-19-updates/

Canadian Bar Association Alberta Branch - Legal Community Response to COVID-19 Updates - https://www.cba-alberta.org/COVID-19

Provincial Court of Alberta - COVID-19 Court Information - https://www.albertacourts.ca/pc/resources/covid

Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta - COVID-19 Pandemic Operations - https://www.albertacourts.ca/qb/court-operations-schedules/pandemic-operations

Court of Appeal of Alberta - Announcements - https://www.albertacourts.ca/ca/publications/announcements