Small Claims Not So Small

How much is a lot of money? This is a very personal question that depends upon many factors; how much is in the bank account; did your pay cheque bounce; how many of your kids are in day care; what is your rent; how much is your student loan?

The question popped in my head as I browsed an article by Diane Saxe via Lexology titled “My neighbour cut down my tree.” The article alerted me to the news that the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Small Claims Court maximum claim amount is rising to $25,000 on January 1, 2010.

To put $25,000 in perspective, according to Statistics Canada, the median total income for an individual in 2006 was $26,500. Quick analysis of the table shows that only 52% of Canadians had more that $25,000 income in 2006. Something tells me that for the majority of Canadians $25,000 is not “small”.

The limit for a small claim amount differs for each Canadian jurisdiction and changes from time to time.

Alberta Provincial Court (Civil Division) – $25,000
Provincial Court of British Columbia – $25,000
Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench, Small Claims Division – $10,000
Small Claims Court of New Brunswick – $6,000
Provincial Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, Small Claims Court – $5,000
Territorial Court of the Northwest Territories – $10,000
Nova Scotia Small Claims Court – $25,000
Nunavut Court of Justice – Unified court, no separate small claims structure
Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Small Claims Court – $10,000, changing to $25,000 January 1, 2010
Prince Edward Island Supreme Court, Trial Division – $8,000
Court of Quebec, Civil Division– $7,000
Saskatchewan Provincial Court, Small Claims Division – $20,000
Yukon Small Claims Court – $25,000

Does it say anything about access to justice in Canada that civil claim monetary limits for our small claims courts are generally quite substantial sums?


  1. Shauna Mireau asks, “Does it say anything about access to justice in Canada that civil claim monetary limits for our small claims courts are generally quite substantial sums?”.

    Indeed it does. Something positive I would argue.

    I believe the rise in the small claims court figure is an indication, however small, that Ontario is finally getting serious about access to justice. While I can’t argue with Ms. Mireau’s numbers — $25,000 is a lot of money to the average Canadian by any objective standard — the increase is designed to open the doors of the courtroom to those very people for whom $25K is a substantial sum.

    By elevating the small claims court limit, we enable access to a simplified and affordable civil litigation mechanism to people who could never afford to hire counsel (a virtual necessity) to represent themslves in Superior Court case.

  2. I agree with Edward. The simple reality is that the complexity of the superior court process just can’t be justified in a cost-benefit analysis for any claim less than $25,000 or so.

  3. Glad to see this topic covered here at Slaw. And yes, for most people, $25,000 is hardly a \small\ claim.

    We have more on Ontario’s Small Claims Courts’pending increase in monetary jurisdiction t Wise Law Blog. See: January 1, 2010: Ontario Small Claims Court Monetary Limit Rises to $25,000, Update on Ontario Small Claims Court Changes, and Ontario Small Claims Court Limit to be Upped to $25,000 in 2010

  4. We exolore this issue in a post – “Reasons Why Going to Small Claims Court on Your Own Is Not the Best Way to Collect on Outstanding Debts”

    Our point with the new $25K max unless you are a retired person with no demands on your time and fairly strong nerves, your most cost effective move is to have a licensed paralegal represent you. There are a broad variety of factors that we discuss in the article.

  5. Thank you for this article. Frankly, I see an increase in access to justice as a result of the rise in the jurisdictional limit. To put matters in perspective, let’s compare the before and after of a typical Ontarian with a small claim. At the current $10,000 maximum amount, the average blue collar worker who is out, say $20,000, on an unpaid loan or promissory note (trust me, it happens a lot), is advised that she must spend $10,000 on a lawyer to bring the matter under the higher court’s simplified procedure, or go to small claims court and waive any amounts claimed over $10,000. When the jurisdictional amount is increased to $25,000, that same person stands a chance to recover everything in small claims court with representation at a fraction of the amount or even on her own without a lawyer. In my view, the main difference will be an increased amount of lawyers and paralegals in the small claims court, but in my opinion, having counsel or representation is a good thing and worth it if one can recover the full amounts owing. Of course, winning a judgment and collecting money are 2 separate things, but that is an issue regardless of the amount of the jurisdictional limit.