COVID-19: Updates on the Law And Legal Services
In an attempt to battle the spread of COVID-19, minimizing social contact has become mandatory throughout the nation. This requirement has caused significant challenges for many industries as several establishments have shut down, including our legal system. If you are wondering what this means for your legal issues, you are not alone.
Thousands of people are on the edge of their seats, curious about how their cases will proceed. To give you and them some insights into how our legal system will function during the pandemic, our experts at JSM Law have listed some common legal problems and what you can expect. We have also listed useful contacts and services for you to avail of respite during these tough times.
1. I have a court date for a criminal charge in the Ontario Court of Justice. What should I do?
If you’re supposed to go to the Ontario Court of Justice for a criminal charge between Friday, March 20, 2020, and Friday, May 29, 2020, don’t go to the court, even if your case has gone to trials.
Given the unpredictable circumstances we are experiencing, your case will automatically be adjourned to another date approximately ten weeks from the date you were supposed to be in court. Be aware that the dates may change again on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. So make sure you check the list of adjournment dates here before you go to court. If you don’t attend court on your new court date, the judge will order a warrant for your arrest.
In the meantime, it’s still crucial that you continue to follow the terms of your release order, such as your bail conditions or recognizance, as your case is still ongoing. If you need legal advice, speak to your lawyer or call Legal Aid Ontario. You can also contact the court for more information. If you’ve been charged with a criminal offense, call or email JSM Law for professional, client-focused, and results-driven representation.
2. I have a trial for a criminal charge in the Superior Court of Justice. What should I do?
If you’re supposed to go to the Ontario Court of Justice for a criminal trial or preliminary inquiry between Friday, March 20, and Friday, May 29, don’t go to the court as these hearings have been suspended.
In case your trial or preliminary inquiry has already started, the judge may order that it continues. If you’re out of custody and your examination or preliminary inquiry was scheduled to begin between Friday, March 20, and Friday, May 29, you will get another date approximately ten weeks from the date you were supposed to be in court. You can click here to check the list of new adjournment dates. Your trial or preliminary inquiry will be rescheduled when you come to court on your new date.
If you’re in custody and your trial or preliminary inquiry was scheduled to begin between Friday, March 20, and Friday, May 29, it will be adjourned to a date chosen by the presiding judge.
3. What can I do if I’m self-isolating with an abusive partner?
The compulsion of self-isolation and social distancing can make it even harder to get help if your partner is abusing you, your children, or another family member. However, if you or someone you know is in immediate danger, you can call the police on 911 for immediate help.
If you’re in an abusive situation but not in immediate danger, think about going to safe places in your home and community. In the case of community places, you can think about going to those that are still open during the pandemic, such as police stations, fire stations, or grocery stores. You can also try to keep in touch with friends and family who can help you if there is an emergency or provide you with emotional support.
Helpful tips to follow in the event of abuse and family violence
Luke’s place is a center devoted to improving the safety and experience of abused women and children has come across several abuse case in the past and offers great insights to help those living with their abuser. In the event you are facing domestic abuse, they suggest that you:
a. Find or make a safe room in your house. Be aware that kitchens are unsafe because they contain knives, heavy pots, and stovetops.
b. Know where every exit in your house is.
c. If possible, carry your cell phone with you at all times, tucked away, so it is hard for your abuser to take from you.
d. If you have a neighbor you trust, ask if they can leave a key to their house somewhere for you in case you need to get to a safe space quickly. Also, tell your kids they can go to this neighbor for help at any time.
e. Develop a code word with your kids and use that word when (and only when) you need them to dial 911 or run to a neighbor for help.
For the complete list of safety tips for abuse victims, head to the Luke’s Place website by clicking here.
Helplines Numbers for 24/7 telephone support
There are several helplines available today that will connect you to professionals in matters related to abuse. If you need immediate assistance or guidance about domestic violence and living with an abuser, some of the helpline numbers you can call during the pandemic are:
a. The Assaulted Women’s Helpline 1-800-863-0511
b. Fem’ aide (if you speak French) 1-877-336-2433
c. Talk4Healing (if you are an Indigenous woman living in Northern Ontario and speak English, Ojibway, Oji-Cree, or Cree) 1-855-554-4325
d. Ganohkwasra Family Assault Support Services (if you are part of the Six Nations of the Grand River community) 519-445-4324
When you call any of these helplines, you can interact with these associations anonymously, which means you do not have to give them your name and contact information to avail of assistance.
Besides on-phone assistance, you can also reach out to shelters and treatment centers for accommodation and medical assistance during this pandemic.
Medical services to reach out to
The Ontario Network of Sexual Assault or Domestic Violence Treatment Centres have setups in thirty-five hospitals across Ontario that provide emergency care to those who have experienced partner abuse. To reach out to them, you can call 416 323-7327.
Shelters you can go to
There are still some emergency shelters open for women and children leaving abusive relationships and in need of essential services. But, they may have restrictions on how many people they can take in due to COVID-19 concerns. Find your local shelter by visiting www.sheltersafe.ca or www.211ontario.ca or by calling 2-1-1 from anywhere in Ontario. Most shelters have staff available twenty-four hours a day to answer the calls of those in need.
Where can you seek emergency legal advice?
Should you require immediate legal assistance, there are several options at your disposal. Some of them include:
a. Luke’s Place
If you need emergency legal assistance, Luke’s Place is willing to help you in any way possible. Over the years, they have worked with several abused women across Ontario by providing legal advice, support, and referrals. Today, they offer a Virtual Legal Clinic that connects women with lawyers for free legal advice on family law issues through video conference calls or phone calls. There is no fee for these services, so it doesn’t matter what your income is if you need legal assistance. All you need to do is reach out to them by calling at 905-728-0978 or 1-866-516-3116.
b. Law Society of Ontario
Currently, the courts are closed for all cases except for those regarding urgent matters. An urgent matter includes situations where your safety is at risk, and you need to ask the court for a restraining order to keep your partner away from you.
The Law Society of Ontario has set up a temporary emergency family law referral telephone line for people with immediate needs like these. You can call them at 416-947-3310or 1-800-268-7568if you have a family law issue and don’t have a lawyer, don’t know if your issue is urgent or not, or don’t know your next steps if your matter is urgent. The referral service provided by them will help you get thirty minutes of free legal advice from a family law attorney.
c. Barbra Schlifer
The Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic helps women in Toronto who’ve experienced abuse. They have free interpreter services seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, and a Family Court Support Worker Program (FCSWP) to help people of all backgrounds. For other services and support, visit their website here. The clinic accepts collect calls and can be reached at 416-323-9140 or 416-323-1361 (TTY).
If you have been charged with a criminal offense, call or email JSM Law for client-focused support and results-driven representation. We also represent people in abuse cases and are ready to help in any way that we can.
4. I couldn’t pay rent this month, and my landlord is threatening to evict me. What can I do?
Landlords can’t evict you themselves. This means they can’t change the locks, and they can’t get someone else, like the police to evict you. There is a process that landlords have to follow. However, on March 19, 2020, the Ontario government put an order in place to stop all evictions until court and tribunal offices are opened again. But if the landlord can convince the Superior Court of Justice that the situation is extremely urgent, the court might make an exception.
If your landlord is threatening to evict you now, there are a few things you can do like:
b. Call the Rental Housing Enforcement Unit (RHEU) at 1-888-772-9277 (toll-free) or 416-585-7214. The RHEU can contact your landlord to discuss the situation. They might be able to get your landlord to stop being hostile, or to let you back in if you’ve already been evicted illegally.
c. Call your local community legal clinic by clicking here and tell them what is happening. Through them, you can speak to a lawyer or legal worker for free. They might contact your landlord or make an urgent application to the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB). It’s best to get legal help if you want to go to the LTB as there are strict processes in place, and a legal professional will know precisely how to go about them. Currently, physical offices of the LTB are closed during the COVID-19 emergency, and they are only accepting certain types of applications. If you can’t get legal help, you can make an urgent application to the LTB using their online Form T2. For this, there is a $45 filing fee you will have to pay by credit card or debit card.
d. Call the police non-emergency number. Sometimes police officers won’t get involved in this kind of situation. But many police forces are aware of the dangers of illegal evictions during the COVID-19 crisis. As a result, they may intervene.
What does the standard eviction process entail?
When tenants owe rent, landlords can give them a notice. If the tenant doesn’t pay within fourteen days, or within seven days, if it’s a weekly tenancy, the landlord can apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) for an eviction order. If the tenant isn’t able to stop the eviction, the eviction order can later be enforced. If the eviction order is applied, the landlord can get the Sheriff to evict the tenant and change the lock physically. But during the COVID-19 emergency, the LTB is not scheduling eviction hearings for rent arrears, and Sheriff’s offices are not doing evictions for rent arrears.
Even though evictions are currently stopped, tenants will have to eventually catch up on their rent, even if they lost income because of COVID-19. For information about possible sources of income support during the pandemic, go to Steps to Justice. You can also find more information on our COVID-19 updates page. If you are a landlord or tenant in need of representation, contact JSM Law to receive professional representation services.
5. Can I cancel my lease if I can’t keep the place because of the COVID-19 emergency?
To do this, you need to ask your landlord if they are willing to agree to end your tenancy early. If they agree, you should both sign a Form N11. If they don’t agree, and your rental agreement is on a month-to-month or weekly basis, you can end it by giving your landlord proper notice.
If you have a lease for a fixed term, such as a year or eight months, you can give notice for the end of the fixed term. By doing this, you may not be responsible for paying rent for the full notice period. For example, your landlord might be able to find a new tenant to take over sooner. But, they have to make reasonable efforts to do this.
6. I got an email from a company offering a quick COVID-19 test within forty-eight hours. I signed the online contract and paid with my credit card. I did not receive the test; what can I do?
Today, there are many COVID-19 scams offering tests, household services, and protective items like masks and clothing. For a list of COVID-19 scams, visit the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre website or give them a call at 1-888-495-8501 to identify scammers.
If you bought something in an online scam, you should contact your credit card company immediately and tell them about it. They might be able to reverse the charges on your credit card. You should also report the fraud to your local police, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, and the Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services.
You can even try calling the company directly to talk about your rights and ask for your money back. There are rules that online sellers must follow, like:
a. The seller must give you a detailed agreement with all charges and details. The information must be clear and easy to understand.
b. The seller must provide you a written copy of the agreement within thirty days of the date on the agreement. If they don’t give you a copy, you can cancel the agreement.
c. The seller must deliver your order or start your service within thirty days after the date stated in the agreement. If they don’t, you can cancel any time before delivery or the start of service. If the agreement doesn’t give a date, then the seller has until thirty days after the date the agreement was made.
In case you decide to send any letters or emails to the seller, remember to keep a copy for your records should things go awry.
7. I want to write a will. What do I need to know?
In light of the COVID-19 situation, you might be thinking of making a will. A will is a legal document that says who gets your property after you die. A power of attorney for property allows another individual to act on your behalf. If you require a will or a power of attorney for property, or personal care, you’ll need a legal professional like JSM Law. We will help you determine what you can put in your will, and how to make a will by deciding things like:
a. Who is the person who will carry out the directions in your will?
b. Who will be called your estate trustee?
c. Who are the people and organizations you want to leave your property to?
d. Who will be called your beneficiaries?
e. Who will care for your children under the age of eighteen?
Who can make a will?
To prepare a legally binding will you need to meet a few requirements like:
a. Being at least eighteen years old, but you can be younger if you’re legally married, a member of the Canadian forces, or a sailor.
b. Being mentally capable means you understand what you are doing, what property you have, and if there are people who are financially dependent on you.
To validate your will, you traditionally need to have witnesses present. But, due to the circumstances of COVID-19, it can be challenging to have witnesses physically present when you sign your will. To overcome this challenge, the government made an emergency order on April 7, 2020, and April 22, 2020, that allows witnesses to be “present” virtually during the signing of these kinds of documents.
For virtual witnesses, you must use audio-visual technology that allows you and your two witnesses to see, hear, and speak to each other simultaneously. One of the witnesses must be a lawyer or paralegal licensed by the Law Society of Ontario. Everyone will be asked to sign an identical copy of the will at the same time, and the audio-video session may be recorded for future reference or proof. The will is made up of all these copies.
If you die without a will or don’t make a valid will, Ontario law has rules about who gets the property in your estate. These are called the intestacy rules. Under these rules, people who you thought would get your property may get less or more than you wanted them to, or they may get nothing. For example, the intestacy rules say only a legally married spouse and biological and adopted children have a right to your property. The intestacy rules do not give anything to a common-law partner, or to stepchildren you haven’t legally adopted.
For more information about the legal system during the pandemic, reach out to the legal experts at JSM Law. We are civil litigation lawyers in the Greater Toronto Area, and our efforts are focused on getting our clients the results they deserve. To accurately help our clients, all of our specialists are experienced professionals with proven records of success. At the same time, they are hard workers and dedicated to delivering success.
For more information about our services, please click here or get in touch with us here to schedule a consultation.