The BC Civil Resolution Tribunal is Up and Running
The oft-delayed, newest arm of the courts system in British Columbia is up and running. The British Columbia Civil Resolution Tribunal (“BCCRT”) is an online adjudication tool which has been designed to simplify and expedite matters which had been in the jurisdiction of the Small Claims Court with a value under $10,000, and Strata disputes. The BCCRT has released its first decision by the Chair of the BCCRT, Shannon Salter, on November 24, 2016, in respect of a Strata dispute involving a condo owner and the contravention of anti-smoking bylaws: The Owners, Strata Plan LMS 2900 v. Mathew Hardy 2016 CRTBC 1. This decision shows that this process will have to be regarded as any other court process and, given the short timelines which apply to it, a Dispute Notice will have to be acted on quickly.
The dispute in The Owners v. Hardy, which was not responded to by the defendant, was ruled on by the Tribunal Chair. It was not for any money, but rather it was sought that the defendant be ordered to stop smoking in his unit. The Tribunal Chair considered the claim on the merits in the absence of a response from the defendant. This consideration included the Strata Bylaws, as well as the Human Rights Code, which the BCCRT has the jurisdiction to consider and apply in a dispute. In this case, it was determined that there was no breach of the HRC, and the Tribunal Chair ordered that the defendant owner was prohibited from smoking tobacco or marijuana on Strata Property and to reimburse the Strata of any Tribunal fees. The defendant had 28 days to appeal the decision. If no appeal was filed, the Strata could enforce this Order by filing a validated copy of it in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. Once filed, this Order would have the same force and effect as an Order of the Supreme Court of British Columbia.
In a second case, James MacArthur v. The Owners, Strata Plan K588 2016 CRTBC 2, the Tribunal ordered the subject Strata to, among other things, finance building foundation repairs by way of a special levy of $25,000 on each owner. As with the previous decision, the defendant did not respond and a default order was applied for. In coming to a default decision, the Tribunal considers the merits of the case, albeit with only submissions from the one side.
Despite the limited sample-size, it would appear that the import of the BCCRT has not registered with those served with the Dispute Notices. Given that the Orders of the BCCRT can have the same force and effect as an Order of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, the Dispute Notices will have to be taken seriously, and the 14 day deadline to respond means that they will have to be acted on quickly. Insurers and brokers may want to bring this new process to the attention to insureds when they purchase or renew insurance. This could save the trouble of even shorter timelines for response and appeals. If an insurer receives a Dispute Notice from an insured, it will have to quickly determine whether there is coverage and how to respond. As far as we are aware, an extension of time for filing a response on an informal basis is not an option.
If a party has insurance, the insurer can act on behalf of the insured. There is no limit on which employee of the insurer can act. Presumably this means in-house counsel can act for the insured. Otherwise, if external counsel is retained, an application to the Tribunal will have to be made for counsel to participate in the adjudication process. This means a lawyer may be able to assist with responding to a Dispute Notice, but that much of the process may fall to the insurer.
Much of how the BCCRT will operate remains to be seen, and there will likely be a period of troubleshooting. Nevertheless, it ought to be regarded and responded to with the same import as any other arm of the court system.
Article by Tim Wedge