Emergency Suspension of Limitation Periods and Procedural Timelines

The Ontario government has just issued an emergency order, retroactive to March 16, 2020, suspending all limitation periods and timelines in proceedings. Regulators generally deal with few true limitation periods. Very few regulators have true limitation periods relating to the filing of complaints or the initiation of disciplinary proceedings. There are limitation periods related to the initiation of provincial offences prosecutions, which many regulators can do, and those will likely be suspended for the duration of the order.

It is the part of the order that suspends the period of time within which any step must be taken in any proceeding, including any intended proceeding, that will have a greater impact on Ontario regulators. For example, timelines for regulators to notify a practitioner of a complaint within so many days is likely suspended. What is less clear is whether regulators can proceed with an investigation, referral to discipline or a discipline hearing where the practitioner is given a specified amount of time to respond before the step is taken. Is the regulator prevented from proceeding in those circumstances? Even if the regulator is presumptively so prevented, the suspension of the timeline is “subject to the discretion of the court, tribunal or other decision-maker responsible for the proceeding”. This exception contained in the emergency order would appear to provide a method for a regulator to require compliance with the timeline in appropriate circumstances, such as where the public is at risk.

The emergency order only applies to proceedings. Other obligations that are not in the nature of intended or actual proceedings, such as the requirement to hold Council meetings within certain timeframes, are likely not suspended by the order. The order also only applies to proceedings under the jurisdiction of the Ontario government; it would not apply to federal proceedings such as under the Criminal Code of Canada.

Given the variety of legislative provisions affected and the general language of the emergency order, regulators need to obtain legal advice for any specific situations.

Read the order here: https://sml-law.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/emcpa-order-eng.pdf

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