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Coronavirus: Alberta courts limit hearings to urgent matters; visits to correctional facilities suspended

Inside an Alberta Court of Appeal courtroom in Edmonton.
Inside an Alberta Court of Appeal courtroom in Edmonton. Global News

Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench is suspending all sittings except for urgent or emergency matters . All visits to provincial correctional facilities and young offender centres have also been suspended as the province and country work to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The Court announced on March 13 that new jury trials and jury selections were being suspended, but the restrictions were expanded on Monday.

READ MORE: Alberta orders all classes cancelled, daycares closed as COVID-19 cases rise to 56 in the province

“To protect the health and safety of all court users while ensuring respect for the legal rights of accused persons and civil litigants, the Provincial Court of Alberta is limiting all regular operations, effective Tuesday, March 17, 2020, until further notice,” the website read on Monday afternoon.

No members of the public will be allowed in court rooms unless they are required for a court matter (parties, witness, media) and legal counsel are permitted to access the Court house for urgent court-related business.

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According to the Court, the following matters will continue:

Family matters:

Non-urgent family matters that were set to be heard after March 17, 2020 will be adjourned for 10 weeks from the scheduled court date. The Court website will be updated to provide information regarding rescheduling.

The following matters are considered urgent and will still be heard by the Court:

  • matters with statutory limitations or deadlines
  • where there is the risk of violence or immediate harm to one of the parties or the child
  • where there is risk of removal of a child
  • apprehension orders
  • initial custody hearings
  • first appearance after apprehension
  • mandatory reviews or show causes under the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act, Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Act, Protection of Sexually Exploited Children Act, Mandatory Drug Testing and Disclosure Act and Mental Health Act
  • warrants
  • emergency protection orders.

Family pre-trial conferences, child protection case management meetings and judicial dispute resolutions will be conducted by telephone unless adjourned, the court site said.

Child protection hearings where the parties have consented to a return, supervision order, temporary guardianship order or permanent guardianship order will occur on an as-needed basis.

Civil matters:

Civil matters other than pre-trial conferences and case management that are set to proceed before May 22, 2020 will be adjourned indefinitely. Parties will be contacted by the local trial coordinator or the Court about rescheduled dates.

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Urgent landlord and tenant matters and other urgent matters will proceed with leave of the Court and desk assessments and applications will continue. Civil pre-trial conferences and case management will be conducted over the phone.

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Parties may contact the Civil Division at their local courthouse regarding scheduling. In Edmonton: 780-644-7638. In Calgary: 403-608-1505.

Surrogate matters:

  • Emergency adult guardianship and trusteeship orders, where there is a risk of harm to an individual or their property

Criminal matters:

Anyone in custody with a criminal court appearance scheduled between March 17 and March 22, 2020 does not need to attend court. The Court website will be updated to provide information regarding rescheduling, which will be 10 weeks from the date of the original scheduled court appearance or the next court date thereafter.

In-custody matters will proceed including:

  • bail hearings
  • sentencings with a priority given to those facing a time served situation
  • preliminary inquiries and trials
  • youth criminal sentence reviews

The Court will hear urgent out of custody criminal matters with leave of a judge and will be available to process urgent warrants and judicial authorizations.

Traffic court:

As of Tuesday, all traffic courts in Alberta will be closed until further notice. If you have a matter scheduled during this time, you do not need to attend court in person, but instead follow one of these options:

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  • Fine payments can be made by mail, through a Registry Office or online
  • Time to pay extensions, time to pay requests, adjournment requests and not guilty pleas can be made by contacting the local courthouse by phone, e-mail or fax. Further updates regarding contact information will be provided.

If you fail to notify the appropriate court location on your intentions before the date on the ticket, you will be convicted in absence.

The Court said several matters that aren’t urgent are still being prioritized to be “addressed in a timely way in the context of a reduction in services,” such as:

  • Arraignments, including for in-custody accused
  • Urgent adult guardianship and trusteeship orders
  • Receivership/CCAA stay extensions
  • Urgent surrogate orders
  • Anton Piller or Mareva-type injunctions
  • Freezing orders

Those who feel their matter is urgent or an emergency are advised to contact officials in their region to schedule a hearing.

Calgary, Drumheller, Grande Prairie: 403-297-6267

Edmonton, St. Paul, Hinton, Peace River, Fort McMurray, High Level: 780-427-0629

Red Deer, Wetaskiwin: 403-340-7980

Lethbridge, Medicine Hat: 403-382-4156

The Court won’t be making any new bookings for cases that aren’t urgent or emergent between March 16 and March 27.

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Any proceedings currently underway in Family, Justice and Masters Chambers have been adjourned until further notice, as have civil trials that haven’t yet started.

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Civil trials underway must be rescheduled and judicial dispute resolution cases, pre-trial conferences, case management bookings, case management counsel meetings and review officer hearings have been cancelled and have to be rescheduled.

READ MORE: Calgary declares local state of emergency due to COVID-19, prompting libraries, rec centres to close

Jury trials underway will proceed, the Court said, and criminal matters set for the week of March 16 to March 27 “must be spoken to by the presiding judge.”

Other criminal matters, including trials and summary conviction appeals, are also adjourned until the following times:

On Monday afternoon, Alberta Justice and Solicitor General announced that, effective immediately, all family and professional visits to all of the provincial correctional facilities and young offender centres were suspended.

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The suspension will be in effect until further notice, the tweet from the government ministry read.

If defence counsel requires an in-person meeting or any family members have questions about the ban, they are directed to contact the individual centre director.