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Ontario Government Extends Limitation Periods for Actions and Claims

This general legal information (not legal advice) is subject to change, and there may be exceptions based on your specific circumstances. You should obtain independent legal advice before taking any action which may impact your legal rights. If you believe you have a claim that is affected by a limitation-period or want more information on the impact of these regulation on a potential claim, an OA lawyer will be pleased to assist you with your situation. 

On March 20, 2020, the Government of Ontario issued an order under s. 7.1 of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (“EMCPA”) to suspend all limitation periods under the Limitations Act 2002. Initially, the order mandated that the 90-day period between March 16, 2020 and June 14, 2020 would halt any time running against the two-year limitation period to file an action. On June 6, 2020, this order was extended by an additional 90-day period to September 11, 2020.

The purpose of the order is to pause any time from running against the limitation period for legal proceedings in Ontario. This order is retroactive from March 16, 2020 (when the Ontario court system was closed in response to the COVID-19 emergency).

What is a limitation period?

A limitation period is a set amount of time that the law permits for an individual to bring an action or claim against another party in court. Limitations periods will vary depending on the type of action that is necessary for a proceeding to commence. Normally, under the Limitations Act, the standard limitation period is two years from the day the cause of action was discovered.

For example, a claim might be discovered:

  • the day on which the person with the claim first knew;
  • when the injury, loss or damage had occurred; and
  • when the act or omission that contributed to the injury, loss or damage occurred.

What the Extension Means:

The emergency order suspends:

  1. Any provision of any statute, regulation, rule, by-law or order of the Government of Ontario establishing any limitation period.
  1. Any provision of any statute, regulation, rule, by-law or order of the Government of Ontario establishing any period of time within which any step must be taken in any proceeding in Ontario.

However, these procedural time limits will not be subject to the same time frame as the limitation period. The procedural time limits will be subject to the discretion of the court, tribunal, or decision maker overseeing the legal proceedings. These time limits could continue at any time, should the overseeing body deem it appropriate to continue legal proceedings. For example, the Ontario Labour Relations Board (“OLRB”) issued a notice not to suspend the time periods relevant to its own proceedings and “so long as employers are continuing to operate and carry on business, [the OLRB] will process applications in its usual capacity.”

Note: Both limitations periods and procedural time limit suspensions are retroactive to Monday, March 16, 2020.

How the Regulations Effects Employment Law

Ordinarily, the two-year limitation period for a claim for wrongful dismissal before the courts begins to run from the date the employment was considered to have ended. However, the COVID-19 situation has temporarily paused any time from running against claims proceeding through the court system.

For example, when an employee received a notice of termination on June 14, 2018, and if that employee believed they have been wrongfully dismissed, he/she would have the option to file a claim for wrongful dismissal with the court until June 14, 2020. Normally, a failure to bring a claim within the allotted 2-year limitation period (except when due to extenuating circumstances), would lead to a claim being dismissed.

However, because the order had been issued 90 days (March 16, 2020) before the limitation period was set to end (June 14, 2020), the employee’s hypothetical claim for wrongful dismissal would still have a 90-day period to file a claim or action once the order has expired.

Simply put, however many days are left once the order was issued will remain in place once the order has expired.

Note: If a claim is discovered when the order is in effect, then time against the limitation period for the claim will not start to run until the order is lifted.

Who does the Regulation Apply to?

The extension of the pause on the limitation period will not extend to contractual obligations between independent parties, who have previously agreed on specific timelines through contract. The pause in the limitation period does not extend to federal laws or laws in other provinces.

Currently, the Ontario Government has not indicated whether it intends to let the suspension expire or extend the suspension for another 90 days. With Ontario courts slowly returning to normal, it becomes even more important to seek out legal advice to understand how this order can affect any ongoing legal proceedings that have been halted due to the pandemic. If you are unsure of the effect the suspension of the limitation period and procedural time limits have on your claim(s), or you have questions about the regulations, contact our office for more information.

O’Neill Associates is proud to support students from the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law (Lakehead University, Thunder Bay) through the school’s unique Integrated Practice Curriculum (IPC) Program. The IPC, a Bora Laskin variation of the “articling” program students complete at most other law schools, matches students with law firms to work side-by-side with experienced lawyers for one full semester during the third and final year. This article was written by Declan Gunovski who will be completing his Placement with OA in the upcoming academic year.