Your questions about coronavirus & legal services

I’m confused which social distancing rules are suggestions and which ones are required. Some things seem to be opening up again, but not others. I'm fuzzy on who I can gather with. And what can lead to a ticket."

– Rae, Coquitlam, BC

The guidance from authorities to stay close to home and to keep two metres apart from others is strong advice, not the law. Some of the social distancing rules do have the force of law, however.

The province’s public health orders are examples. The most recent ones include orders restricting social gatherings, requiring masks in many settings, and spelling out rules for restaurants and pubs. The latter order details how establishments must limit the number of patrons, keep two metres between groups of patrons, and close off dance floors (among other measures).

The province has been cracking down on rule violations. Police and provincial bylaw officers can issue $2,300 tickets to event organizers and restaurants and pubs that break the rules. Authorities can also ticket individuals: you can get a $230 ticket for not following mask wearing requirements (among other things), or a $575 ticket for attending a non-compliant event or gathering.

Another rule that has severe penalties if you don’t follow it: If you’ve just returned to Canada from abroad, you must isolate or quarantine, depending on if you have symptoms. (The federal government website explains the difference.) You can be fined or jailed for failing to follow this order.

Is the courthouse open? If I have a case coming up, will it be postponed?

After being closed early in the pandemic, courts in British Columbia resumed operations in mid-2020, with extensive new protocols in place. For Provincial Court matters, please consult their notice. Notices have also been issued by the Supreme Court and Appeals Court.

The Civil Resolution Tribunal continues to operate normally, though it is extending some timelines. This online tribunal handles small claims matters up to $5,000 and certain other types of disputes.

What if I’m running out of time to file a claim?

Early in the pandemic, the province issued an order suspending all limitation periods and time periods for starting a claim or bringing an appeal in a civil or family court matter. (There was an exception for builders' liens claims.) The suspension continued until March 25, 2021. This resulted in the suspension having been in place for exactly one year. To be clear: on March 25, 2021, the suspension of limitation periods ended. If you're contemplating a court action or appeal in a civil or family matter, file your paperwork now.

For matters before tribunals (as distinct from courts), each tribunal can decide whether to suspend time periods. Check with the tribunal that is in play for your situation.

Are law offices open for business?

The provincial government designated legal services and the work of lawyers, notaries, and paralegals to be essential services. Their offices can remain open, but they must follow the orders and guidance of the provincial health authorities. Like other workplaces, they must post a COVID-19 safety plan.

Legal Aid BC continues to provide legal aid services, but by phone only. If you live in a community where there is a local agent, call the agent's office to apply for legal aid. Legal Aid BC’s online services remain open, such as the LiveHelp chat service on their Family Law website.

Yes, but non-profits have adapted their services, as so many have. Access Pro Bono ramped up their telephone advice service. CLAS continues to provide assistance to eligible clients, but the logistics have changed

Some providers have launched new services to respond to the crisis. For example, Mediate BC offers a "low-bono" online mediation program that helps people resolve conflicts that stem from the pandemic.

Is the land registry open for business?

At BC’s land title offices, front counter services are closed. But you can still register property sales and other title interests through their online services.

  • Reviewed in April 2021
  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Time to read: 3 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

People's team, People's Law School

People's team

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