Federal Court denies feds’ attempt to block its COVID-19 directions

Friday, September 4, 2020 | Julius Melnitzer

The Federal Court of Appeal has dismissed the Attorney General of Canada’s attempt to block the court’s practice directions governing the gradual phase-out of COVID-19 suspension periods so far as the directions apply to cases involving the federal government and numerous federal boards, commissions and other tribunals.

Characterizing the feds’ interpretation of section 6 of the Time Limits and Other Periods Act (COVID-19) as resulting in “confusion and potential harm”, as “allowing Parliament to unilaterally interfere with the management and governance of ongoing proceedings”, and as “especially intolerable” given the ubiquitous presence of the feds as parties in the court, Chief Justice Marc Noël declared that “time limits under all Court orders and directions still stand”, and that “the Practice Directions made by this Court or actions taken by the Registry under those Practice Directions” are not affected by section 6.

“In closing, I wish to emphasize that this Court has been concerned about the effect of the pandemic on its litigants and their matters and the capacity of the Registry to transact business during these challenging times,” he wrote.

“It has issued Practice Directions and other steps have been taken in a careful and sensitive way to permit access to justice but only in a manner that is fair and safe. Throughout, this Court has recognized that some parties need more time to complete certain steps, require a suspension of their matters or deserve an extension of time limits, and this Court has acted accordingly. Under the established legal tests in this Court, unavoidable, practical difficulties encountered by a party will always be a significant factor in favour of granting an extension of time or varying a court order . . . This Court has not hesitated to suspend matters on its own initiative when necessary. It remains able to do so at any time.”

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