On March 15, 2020, the Chief Justice of Quebec and the Minister of Justice issued Order 2020-4251 (the “Suspension Order”), pursuant to Article 27 of the Code of Civil Procedure,1 following the March 13, 2020 declaration of a health emergency (the “Declaration of Health Emergency”) resulting from the coronavirus and COVID-19 crisis.2 The Suspension Order provided for the suspension of prescription and forfeiture periods for civil matters, as well as deadlines for civil procedures.3
In accordance with its provisions, the Suspension Order was renewed for periods equivalent to the duration of the Declaration of Health Emergency, which has been extended several times since then.
On July 13, 2020, the Chief Justice of Quebec and the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Quebec announced that the suspension of deadlines in both civil and criminal matters would be lifted as of September 1, 2020.4
Although conditions and clarifications may be added by decree, the announcement of the lifting of the suspension of deadlines in civil and criminal matters effectively terminates the effects of the Suspension Order from this point on. Accordingly, the prescription periods, forfeiture periods and procedural deadlines will run again for the exact amount of time that remained before the expiry of the deadline in question.
As of September1, 2020, 169 days will have elapsed since the Suspension Order,5 with the following consequences:
a) For periods that ended during the declared health emergency: as many days as elapsed between March 15 and the deadline that fell during the suspension period must be added as of the end of the suspension period.
- For example, if a deadline was due to expire on March 25, 2020, 10 days would have remained, had there been no Suspension Order. Therefore, these 10 days will begin at the end of the suspension period, i.e. September 1, 2020, and will effectively postpone the deadline in question to September 11, 2020;
b) For periods whose initial expiry date came after the end of the declared health emergency: 169 days must be added to the period in question, thereby postponing the deadline by the same number of days.
- For example, if a deadline was due to expire on January 3, 2021, 169 days must be added, thereby extending the deadline to June 21, 2021.
The announcement regarding the lifting of the suspension also provides for an automatic extension of the deadlines associated with the pre-action protocols for civil procedures in effect at the time of the 45-day Suspension Order, without the parties having to take any steps to benefit from that extension.
One can expect the courts and administrative tribunals to issue guidelines for reorganizing ongoing proceedings and implementing changes to protocols and other agreements on the conduct of proceedings.
The calculation and observance of prescription periods, forfeiture periods and procedural deadlines may have major, irreversible and even disastrous consequences on litigants’ substantive and procedural rights. Practitioners and litigants should pay close attention to the calculation of time limits applicable to them, in order to protect their rights and remedies, defend against any action or release them from obligations due to the passage of time. They should also be mindful of any other reasons for suspending or interrupting deadline calculations, as such reasons could be superimposed on the Suspension Order.
We anticipate that the Suspension Order’s effects will be felt for many years and that many debates will arise regarding time limit calculations and the legal basis of the rights involved.
1 27. In a state of emergency declared by the Government or in a situation where it is impossible in fact to comply with the rules of this Code or to use a means of communication, the Chief Justice of Quebec and the Minister of Justice may jointly suspend or extend a prescription or procedural period for a specified time, or authorize the use of another means of communication in the manner they specify.
Their decision takes effect immediately and must be published without delay in the Gazette officielle du Québec.
2 Order 177-2020.
3 COVID-19: Order 2020-4251 and the suspension of limitation periods, forfeiture periods and procedural deadlines.
5 In accordance with Article 2879 of the Civil Code of Quebec, the prescription period is counted in full days; the day on which the prescription period begins is not counted in the calculation of the period end date. The announcement of the lifting of the suspension of deadlines refers to a total suspension of five and a half months, a duration that is unclear and difficult to use in calculating end dates.