COVID-19 and the Suspension of Limitation Periods in Alberta

August 6, 2020

As most lawyers are aware, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General issued Ministerial Order 27/2020 which suspended limitation periods in a number of enactments from March 17 to June 1, 2020. The Ministerial Order expired on June 1, 2020, and limitations began to run again.

The impact of the Ministerial Order may be felt for months and years to come. The Law Society has received questions about the effect of the Ministerial Order on the calculation of limitation periods and the interpretation of the terms of the suspension.

The operative sections of the Ministerial Order state:

  1. Limitation periods are suspended in the enactments under Appendix A from March 17, 2020 to June 1, 2020.
  2. Any period of time within which any step must be taken in any proceeding or intended proceeding is suspended subject to the discretion of the court, tribunal, or other decision-maker from March 17, 2020 to June 1, 2020.
  3. For clarity, the limitation period or period of time resumes running on June 1, 2020, and the temporary suspension period shall not be counted.

Action required:

  1. Lawyers need to re-diarize all existing files affected by the Ministerial Order.
  2. Lawyers must also remember to take the suspension period into account when calculating limitation periods and diarizing files on future retainers.
  3. Essentially, the Ministerial Order stopped the clock from running for the 75 days following March 17, 2020, until May 31, and time began to run again on June 1, 2020. Lawyers will accordingly need to add 75 days when adjusting the calculation of limitation dates on their files. This interpretation and calculation is based on section 22(6) of the Interpretation Act, and March 17 is not counted in the calculation.

The suspension of limitation periods affects any file that had a limitation period running between March 17 and June 1. This is the case for matters where the limitation period would have expired during the suspension period and it will also apply to all matters that had a limitation period running during the suspension period.

Some examples of how the Ministerial Order will impact the calculation of limitation periods in the future are as follows:

  1. If a limitation period was originally set to expire on March 18, 2020, then the plaintiff would have been required to file the initiating document by June 1, 2020;
  2. If a limitation period was originally set to expire on May 31, 2020, then the plaintiff will have until August 14, 2020, to file the initiating document;
  3. If a limitation period was originally set to expire on June 2, 2020, then the plaintiff will have until August 16, 2020, to file the initiating document;
  4. If a two-year limitation period was originally set to expire on November 1, 2021, then a plaintiff will have until January 15, 2022, to file the initiating document.

There is an exception to counting all 75 days of the suspension period where the limitation period began running during the suspension period. For example, if a motor vehicle accident occurred during the suspension period, the limitation period would begin to run on June 1, 2020. Simply put, a limitation period that began running on or after March 18, 2020 and up to and including May 31, 2020, will expire on June 1, 2022.

For a discussion of the distinction between the suspension of limitation periods and other court deadlines which are subject to the discretion of a court or tribunal, you may refer to an additional article on our website entitled Suspension of Limitation Periods and Court Deadlines During the Pandemic.

Our Practice Advisors are available to answer questions from lawyers and students-at-law on a confidential basis and are pleased to address questions regarding limitation periods and other legal, ethical and practice issues.