Criminal Court FAQs 

The following FAQs are intended to provide answers to the most commonly asked criminal court questions received by NCLI. They will be updated periodically as new questions arise.

My trial has been delayed due to COVID-19. Do I have any recourse because of this?

11(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to a trial within a reasonable time. The Supreme Court of Canada has provided presumptive timelines of 18 months for a provincial court trial, and 30 months for a superior court trial; however exceptions remain. It has not yet been determined how delays resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic will be accounted for by courts, and will inevitably depend on a number of factors.

If you are on strict bail terms, a delay of your trial could serve as grounds to relax these restrictions.

I was supposed to be a witness on a case but the court was closed. When do I have to go back?

If you have been subpoenaed or ordered to attend court as a witness in a trial or preliminary inquiry, you must attend on the scheduled date unless the party who subpoenaed you advises that you are no longer required to attend.

If you are a witness and have any questions about your subpoena or attending court, contact the person listed on the subpoena or on the correspondence attached to your subpoena. Otherwise, contact the courthouse or Victim/Witness Assistance office.

Ontario Courthouse email directory:
https://www.ontariocourts.ca/ocj/covid-19/courthouse-email-addresses/

Find Courthouse by location: https://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/courts/Court_Addresses/

To find the nearest Victim/Witness Assistance office, call the Victim Support Line
toll free at:1-888-579-2888
For the Greater Toronto Area: 416-314-2447
Or visit www.ontario.ca/victimservices

(From https://www.ontariocourts.ca/ocj/covid-19/resumption-trials-preliminary-hearings/)

If I have proposed myself as a surety, do I have to attend court?

If you are proposing yourself as a surety, it will likely be done via teleconference or videoconference.

If possible, get in contact with Counsel for the accused to complete a sworn surety declaration form.

If you are already surety and concerned about court dates, see the advice above.

If you are already surety and would like to remove yourself, contact the non-emergency line at your local police station.

If I am a member of the public or press, will I be able to attend court or access court proceedings?

Currently, in-person attendance in most Ontario courthouses is significantly restricted, with physical distancing measures being strictly enforced.

Members of the public and media are still welcome to attend court proceedings, subject to certain legislative and technological limitations.

Note that attendance in court will be subject to judicial discretion and courthouses may limit the number of people who can attend in-person. As well, some proceedings may be closed to the public by way of legislation or court order, and some proceedings may be subject to publication bans.

Most likely, access to court proceedings will be done remotely, by audio only. If you plan on attending a court proceeding remotely, you must be connected at least 5 minutes to the commencement of the proceeding, and your device/microphone must be kept on mute.

Unless given prior judicial authorization, taking photographs, videos, or making audio recordings of a court proceeding is an offence under s. 136 of the Courts of Justice Act.

Only counsel, licensed paralegals, court staff, members of the media, and litigants are permitted to make audio recordings of proceedings, provided they are made solely for note-taking purposes and the presiding judicial officer has been advised prior to recording.

Members of the public may also make audio recordings solely for the purpose of note-taking if the presiding judicial officer has provided express permission.

For further instructions on remote attendance, contact the courthouse by email. Use the subject line “Hearing Access Request,” provide your full name, and identify the proceeding you wish to attend.

How do I apply for legal aid right now?

Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) in-person services are suspended during COVID-19, but LAO can be reached at its toll free number between 8 AM and 5 PM on weekdays. LAO offers 20-minutes of free legal advice for in-custody accused persons (excluding homicide) with an upcoming court date and out-of-custody accused persons without a lawyer. LAO has also waived legal and financial eligibility testing for criminal defence certificates of in-custody accused persons (excluding homicide) and summary legal advice. 

LAO currently offers legal aid certificates for: (a) individuals held in remand; (b) incarcerated individuals who qualify for temporary absence permits; and (c) incarcerated individuals who are eligible for early emergency release. They have waived merit testing for bail review, and are reinstituting bail block authorization to be added to certificates.

How do I complete volunteer hours for my Direct Accountability Program during COVID-19?

Pre-charge and post-charge diversion programs continue to operate, but in different ways. 

Currently, all intakes are being conducted by phone and confirmations of agreements are sent via email. Programs are delivered through Zoom.

How can I contact Duty Counsel?

Currently, Duty Counsel offices located inside courthouses are closed for in-person visits. Clients can receive advice from Legal Aid Ontario by calling 1 (800) 668-8258; financial eligibility requirements for summary legal advice have been waived.

Clients can also contact their local Duty Counsel office by phone. See below for location and phone numbers.

Legal Aid Client Service Centre: 416-979-1446
Toronto Duty Counsel Office (Criminal) – College Park: (416) 598-1260 (Closed)
Toronto Duty Counsel Office (Criminal – Youth): (416) 598-0200 Ext. 4361 (Closed)
Toronto Duty Counsel Office (Criminal) – Old City Hall: (416) 594-9300 (Closed)
Brampton Duty Counsel Office (Criminal): (905) 455-3123
Etobicoke Duty Counsel Office (Criminal) – Ontario Court of Justice: (800) 265-0451 (Closed)
GTA – Criminal Law Service Centre: (905) 874-0147
Newmarket Duty Counsel Office (Criminal): (905) 836-8580
Newmarket Legal Aid Courthouse Office (Criminal): (905) 895-9103
Oshawa Duty Counsel (Criminal): (905) 728-3801 (Closed)
Scarborough Duty Counsel Office (Criminal): (416) 757-6257 (Closed)
Barrie Enhanced Duty Counsel Office (Criminal) Formerly Criminal Law Office: (705) 737-3400
Brockville Duty Counsel (Criminal): (613) 341-2800 Ext. 2252
Cobourg Duty Counsel (Criminal):  (905) 377-9159 (Closed)
Cornwall Duty Counsel (Criminal): (613) 933-9300
Gogama Duty Counsel (Criminal): (705) 264-9473
Gore Bay Criminal Court: (705) 673-8182
Haileybury Duty Counsel (Criminal): (705) 672-2937
Hamilton Duty Counsel – Criminal: (905) 645-5252 Ext. 3616
Kingston Duty Counsel (Criminal): (613) 531-0504
Kirkland Lake Duty Counsel (Criminal): (705) 567-5582
L’Orignal Duty Counsel (Criminal): (613) 675-1663
Napanee Duty Counsel (Criminal): (613) 354-5774
Orangeville Duty Counsel Office (Criminal): (519) 938-8671
Ottawa Duty Counsel (Criminal): (613) 238-7931 Ext. 7001
Pembroke Duty Counsel (Criminal): (613) 735-3400
Perth Duty Counsel (Criminal): (613) 326-0790
Sioux Lookout Duty Counsel (Criminal): (807) 737-3074
St. Catharines Duty Counsel – Criminal: (905) 685-8695
Sudbury Duty Counsel (Criminal): (705) 673-8182
Wikwemikong Criminal Court: (705) 673-8182

How do I swear an affidavit during COVID-19? Would it need to be sworn before a commissioner of oaths?

Affidavits can be sworn remotely, but the procedure differs depending on the Court.

For the Ontario Court of Justice, a formal affidavit does not need to be filed for criminal matters but parties should retain copies of the relevant affidavits of service to produce to the Court upon request. Where it is not possible to email a sworn affidavit, an affiant may deliver an unsworn affidavit and subsequently participate in a telephone or video-conference hearing to swear or affirm the affidavit’s contents. 

For the Superior Court of Justice, where it is not possible for an oath to be administered in the physical presence of the deponent, it can be commissioned by videoconference. A deponent may deliver an affidavit that is unsworn to the Court where it is not possible for the affidavit commissioned by videoconference and in the physical presence of a commissioner for oaths, if the deponent later participates in a telephone or video conference to swear or affirm the affidavit.

For the Ontario Court of Appeal, where oaths cannot be commissioned, the affidavit must be completed, signed, and e-filed. The document must be accompanied by an acknowledgment from the recipient of the document or an explanation of why the acknowledgment could not be obtained.

For the Supreme Court of Canada, a policy has not yet been announced but the Court’s Registrar can be contacted at registry-greffe@scc-csc.ca or at 1 (844) 355-9662 between 12 to 4:30 PM on weekdays.

I have heard that everyone is getting bail due to COVID-19. Do I have to worry about my safety?

The purpose of considering COVID-19 in the assessment of bail is to reduce the detention (to increase the safety) of accused persons during the pandemic, and to reduce the caseload so that lawyers can focus on high-priority cases while courtrooms operate at reduced capacity.

Fundamental laws concerning bail have not changed. Police, Crown attorneys, and judicial officers consider a variety of factors before deciding whether or not to grant bail. COVID-19 pandemic has now become one of these factors, and will be considered when appropriate.

How do I complete volunteer hours for my Direct Accountability Program during COVID-19?

Pre-charge and post-charge diversion programs continue to operate, but in different ways. 

Currently, all intakes are being conducted by phone and confirmations of agreements are sent via email. Programs are delivered through Zoom.

Can I visit friends or family members who are held in correctional facilities?

According to the Ministry of Correctional Services, as of June 29th, personal visits are allowed.

The correctional facility must be contacted ahead of time, to check whether the specific facility is open for personal visits; if so, please schedule your visit in advance. 

You must bring and wear a mask at the facility; masks are not provided by the facility. You will undergo a health screening for COVID-19 symptoms, a temperature check, and be asked questions regarding travel outside of Canada and contact with sick individuals.

The facility itself will increase cleaning measures, provide personal protective equipment to workers, and conduct self-screening and temperature checks on staff

I have been told to self-isolate by a health official, but I have a court appearance. Do I still need to attend court in-person?

If you have been told to self-isolate, please contact your lawyer. If you do not have Counsel, do contact the nearest Victim/Witness Assistance Centre or Duty counsel.

Ontario Courthouse email directory:
https://www.ontariocourts.ca/ocj/covid-19/courthouse-email-addresses/

Find Courthouse by location: https://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/courts/Court_Addresses/

If I have to attend court in-person, do I have to wear a mask?

Yes, you wear a face covering inside the courthouse.

Courthouses have taken additional Covid-19 safety measures, including increased courtroom cleaning, hand sanitizer stations, physical barriers, as well as maintaining physical distancing of two metres at all times.

Before entering a courthouse, you will be asked a number of questions. You can complete this screening process before attending court: https://covid-19.ontario.ca/courthouse-screening/

 

If you do not wish to attend court due to health concerns, contact your lawyer, thelocal Victim/ Witness Assistance Program, or duty counsel.

The criminal court was closed for my date. When do I have to go back?

If you have counsel, contact your counsel. If you do not have counsel, your matter will be adjourned automatically for 10 weeks from the date of your last appearance. 

Iif the 10 weeks have passed, it will be adjourned 10 weeks automatically from that date (20 weeks from initial date). See the following link: https://www.ontariocourts.ca/ocj/covid-19/
criminal-list-adjournment/

The POA court was closed for my court date. When do I have to go back?

All POA in-person proceedings set for March 16th, 2020 to September 11th, 2020 will be adjourned to a later date. Do not attend court if your proceeding is scheduled during this period.  A notice of the new court date will be provided to the address on the Court’s file. If you have changed your address, it is important to notify the Ministry of Transportation, so that your ticket will be sent to the appropriate address.

Judicial pre-trial conferences and early resolution guilty pleas may proceed by video or audio teleconference. If this applies to your matter, you will be notified with the date and time of your remote appearance.

https://www.ontariocourts.ca/ocj/notice-to-public-regarding-provincial-offences-act-matters/

Which courts are currently open, and which ones are closed?

The adjournment of criminal case management appearances has been extended to July 31st for the Ontario Court of Justice. In-person criminal trials and preliminary inquiries resumed in the majority of Ontario on July 7th, although resumption of in-person hearings in Toronto has been delayed.

Superior Courts of Justice is now proceeding with certain matters, and is now setting dates on most matters. Criminal jury trials will not recommence until September 2020 or later.

The Ontario Court of Appeal will have all matters, appeals, and motions proceed by remote appearance. Starting on July 6th, the Court of Appeal uses Zoom for remote hearings. Links to virtual hearings and passwords are sent out two weeks before the event, and the Zoom hearing will begin thirty minutes before the allotted time to allow staff and participants to address potential technological difficulties. 

The Supreme Court of Canada restricts building access to individuals who are required for the proceedings before the Court; it is closed to visitors. The Registry is working remotely, and documents can be submitted electronically. Parties can seek adjournments or request to appear by tele- or video-conference.

How do I know if my case is considered an “urgent” or “emergency” case?

The best way to make this argument is to hire a legal professional.

Courts have issued practice directions to provide guidance; ‘urgent’ or ‘emergency’ cases are largely determined based on existing jurisprudence

To make a case for yourself, email the court for consideration of your motion as “urgent”, according to the instructions of the respective court website.

The Ontario Court of Justice deems all criminal cases involving an in-custody accused to be urgent. For out-of-custody accused persons, urgent matters are matters that require the court’s attention before the assigned court date, such as urgent guilty pleas (where there is deadline for eligibility to particular program), urgent consent bail variations, urgent applications to vary police undertakings, and urgent applications to vary probation or conditional sentence order conditions.

At Criminal Intake Courts, the following matters are considered urgent: swearing of Informations and confirmation of process, bail variations, surety revocations, search warrants and urgent investigative warrants, Form 2 Mental Health applications, Child and Youth Services Act apprehension warrants, and any urgent and necessary Provincial Offences Act Intake matters. 

Applications will not necessarily result in hearings, so ensure that you provide as much evidence as possible to demonstrate the serious and immediate nature of your matter.

If the case is accepted as urgent, it will likely be heard remotely via teleconference or videoconference.

Do I have the option to appear remotely? What is the procedure for remote video appearances?

This will depend on the nature of your appearance.

Ontario Courthouses are actively working to implement a procedure that will allow accused persons and/ or counsel to attend criminal case management appearances remotely, via video or teleconference.

Currently, the automatic adjournment of criminal court appearances for accused persons who are not in custody, described in section 4.3a of the COVID-19: Notice to Counsel and the Public re: Criminal Matters in the Ontario Court of Justice, will be extended to August 21, 2020, at court locations across Ontario except Ottawa and Kitchener. Typically, these matters will be adjourned to a date approximately 10 weeks from the original date.

If you are unsure when your next court date is, whether you are required to attend on that date, or whether you should be attending in person or by remote technology, please contact your lawyer. If you do not have counsel, please contact Legal Aid or contact the courthouse by email or telephone. See contacts listed above.

* Update (July 28, 2020): On Monday August 10, 2020, a virtual criminal case management court pilot will be launched in Ottawa and Kitchener, in which criminal case management appearances will be conducted by videoconference or audio-conference.  The Court expects to begin conducting criminal case management appearances by audio-conference or video-conference at additional court locations later in August.  In the meantime, the automatic adjournment of criminal court appearances for accused persons who are not in custody, will be extended to August 21, 2020, at court locations across Ontario except Ottawa and Kitchener.   For more information see Notice to the Profession and the Public: Update regarding Criminal Case Management Appearances

I have been charged with an impaired driving offence and I am worried about entering my plea before the deadline. What can I do?

In Ontario, the stream A deadline for entering a guilty plea has been extended from 90 days to 282 days. As a result, individuals entering a guilty plea for a first or second-time impaired driving offence may be eligible to apply for the Reduced Suspension with Ignition Interlock Conduct Review Program if the plea is entered within 282 days from the date of the offence.

Eligibility requirements: http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/safety/ignition-interlock-conduct-review-program.shtml)

How can I commence criminal proceedings during COVID-19, particularly in situations of domestic violence and sexual assault?

COVID-19 has not changed in this process; if you are in immediate danger, please call 911.

Otherwise, please call your local police or consult a criminal lawyer for advice on how to proceed.

Legal Aid Ontario urges survivors of sexual assault to call 1 (800) 668-8258 during regular business hours, and ensure that applications will be processed quickly so the individual can get the help that s/he requires.

Eligibility requirements have been waived during COVID-19 for those experiencing domestic violence, who need a certificate for a family lawyer or up to two hours of free legal advice.

I have been charged with an offence and would like to get it over with before courts reopen. What are my options?

Contact a lawyer or duty counsel. If you are unable to contact them, reach out to the Crown Attorney’s office to arrange for a meeting with the Crown to resolve your matter. Oftentimes, the Crown is willing to engage in settlement and to provide alternative options for the accused such as Direct Accountability Programs, depending on the nature of the offence.