No Access to Remote Justice in L’Orignal, Ontario?

Recently we took on two Small Claims Court actions for good clients. In both cases we acted for the plaintiff.

Anyone who has commenced a Small Claims Court proceeding knows that the Small Claims Court Rules provide that the plaintiff is generally required to commence the action in the jurisdiction where the defendant lives or carries on business. In both cases our client operated from Toronto. In both cases, we had to commence the action in L’Orignal, Ontario as a result of that being where the defendant carried on business.

For those of you who don’t know, L’Orignal is about 500km East of Toronto, right on the Ottawa River and the Quebec border. Map Quest tells me it’s about a 10 hour round trip drive from my office, and that’s without any traffic.

When the first proceeding came up for a Settlement Conference we requested that the matter be conducted by telephone conference. We thought that this was a logical request given that it was a 1000km round trip for both the client and us to attend. Believe it or not, there is actually a form specifically for this purpose, Form 1B. We have made similar requests in the past for places like Guelph and Milton, and they have been routinely granted without issue.

To my surprise, when the request was returned it was denied. No reasons were given as to why the request was denied.

Thankfully the first case settled on its own prior to the Settlement Conference and no one needed to attend.

Fast forward to the second case which just came up for a Settlement Conference. Once again we put in the request for a telephone conference and once again the request was rejected with no reasons given.

I will concede that two cases form a small sample size, however in my view the two cases are not coincidences and I suspect that other similar requests at this courthouse have been, and will be, rejected.

The Small Claims Court is supposed to be the “people’s court”. It is supposed to be easily accessible and easy to use. On top of this we currently have an access to justice problem in this province. Everyone from the Chief Justice on down will tell you that our civil court system is too expensive, too cumbersome and too out dated.

While I appreciate that where possible it is always better to have both parties in the same room, I cannot for the life of me figure out how requiring our client and their counsel to travel 10 hours round trip for a 45 minute settlement meeting on a claim worth less than $25,000 (much less in one instance), was necessary or reasonable, especially when the plaintiff was forced into this particular jurisdiction.

I suppose that because no reasons were given for the refusal I will never figure it out.

Comments

  1. Matt,

    When I was in Ontario, not that long ago, there would have been acceptable ways for you to find out why. I’d be astonished that none of them still exist. Did your firm attempt any of them? If it did not, you should not be criticizing the court. Apart from that? There is a regional “chief” justice or whatever the title is who could have been written. Apart from that? I’d be astonished if there is nobody in your firm who socializes with a judge. A word to that judge would result in, I expect, a world to the regional Chief Justice which almost certainly would result in somebody speaking to you from the SmCC registry, undoubtedly somebody from the local SC registry wearing different pants.

    Failing all of that? The Small Claims Courts are now part of the Ontario Supreme Court.. Somebody in your firm will know how to write to the CJ of that Court.

    Based on what you have written, I agree that you were entitled to an explanation. I don’t agree that you are entitled to complain about anything more than that.

    DC

  2. Good post, Matt.

  3. Good post? Really?

    Mr. Laurer blames the court without providing any advice as to whether his firm made the slightest effort to find out why the telephone conference was denied? And then write a post here complaining about the court’s conduct? That’s good conduct from a lawyer with the right to post on this blog?

    If that article came from a newspaper reporter working for any newspaper (except maybe a supermarket rag: for that he’d have to add how he was kidnapped by aliens, too and is now bearing Trump’s love child) any competent editor would have rejected it outright and probably questioned whether Mr. Lauer needed to be sent back to reporting school.

    DC

  4. David,

    In my view, the reason for the denial ought to have accompanied the denial itself. My client should not be put to the time or expense of having to follow up with the court to ask for reasons which ought to have been given in the first instance.

    The small claims court rules provide that when a judge decides whether or not to grant such a request the judge “shall” consider the balance of convenience between the party that wants the telephone conference and any party that opposes it as well as “any other relevant matter”. In both my cases no one opposed the requests made by our office, they were simply rejected with no explanation as to the basis of why they were rejected.

    My client shouldn’t have to rely on a letter to the Chief Justice, or the possibility that someone in my firm “socializes with a judge”, as you suggested, in order to have the court provide reasons that ought to have been given in the first instance. I should also point out that the court sat on the request for a significant period of time before notifying us of the rejection less than a week before the scheduled date. Working back channels, even if that was considered appropriate, wasn’t a feasible option given time constraints.

    I still fail to see what legitimate reason could have been given in any event, although I am sure you will shortly post a laundry list of them for me.

    Your comments are always appreciated. However, if you are going to talk about my competence and that of the editor of this website in a credible fashion you may want to spell my name right, which is with a M and 2 Rs.

  5. Matt,

    I apologize for the misspelling.

    The misspelling doesn’t change my point.

    Your point that the court should have provided an explanation is valid.

    But that fact alone didn’t justify your complaint the way you wrote it. Maybe a mistake was made. These are small claims courts. Maybe that court doesn’t have the facilities for telephone conferences. That’s the story we got once from another small claims court for why I couldn’t have the telephone conference. It was arguably true if one talked just about landlines. It wasn’t true otherwise.

    Time constraints? You could have very easily contacted the court in the proper way and found out. This isn’t the 1910s any more. There are quick, efficient means. That you shouldn’t have had to isn’t the point. Are you really suggesting that a call to the registrar wouldn’t have told you what the issue was?

    If the court had dodged you, then you complain. That’s what you should have done. That’s what every young lawyer in my office would have done in all the years I practiced in Ontario. If you disagree, you disagree.

    You’re still wrong.

    The editor I referred to was the editor of a newspaper. Slaw’s editor doesn’t function in that fashion. Steve Matthews relies on all of us who have the right to post here to have an adequate basis for the statements we make before we make them.

    Your complaint on this board was premature. It is unfortunate that you are unwilling to concede that. I could say more but I won’t. There’s nothing more of value for me to contribute to this discussion.

    David

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