Engaging with Stakeholders to Provide COVID-19 Updates
As the COVID-19 situation continues to unfold, we are engaging with various stakeholder groups such as the government, courts and Teranet Manitoba to provide important updates to Manitoba lawyers and to address issues that have been identified by the profession.
These circumstances are raising challenging issues for the profession. The following are examples of issues that we are aware of at this time and have been working toward providing alternative means of compliance:
- Swearing affidavits: Sworn affidavits are required in court processes and applications but the execution of such documents requires in-person attendances with clients and other witnesses. We raised this concern with the Court of Queen’s Bench and the Manitoba Court of Appeal and they immediately issued a direction that permits lawyers to file affidavits that are not in strict compliance with the Evidence Act. You will find the direction from the Courts here.
- Court Notices: We are in communication with all three levels of Manitoba Courts and receiving Notices on a regular basis and posting them on our website so that you may have immediate access. You will find them here.
- Communication from the Court of Queen’s Bench advising that the capacity of the Registry staff is limited: This office remains open but is operating with a reduced staff. We have previously advised that limitation dates remain operative and that you will need to take steps to protect them. See here. The most recent communication posted Monday, March 23 relates to the capacity of the Registry to take documents and you are being asked to refrain from any non-essential court filings.
- Execution of Land Titles documents: Teranet Manitoba requires that lawyers be physically present to witness clients’ execution of land transfers. Land Titles documents which may be witnessed by non-lawyers if accompanied by an Affidavit of Witness must also be signed in the physical presence of the witness. At this point, witnessing or commissioning documents remotely by video conferencing is not permitted and legislative change may be required to allow this. We are working with the Registrar-General and Teranet Manitoba in an attempt to resolve this.
- 72 Hour Hold on documents by Teranet Manitoba: Teranet Manitoba has temporarily suspended their in-person land titles and personal property registry client service, as a result of which lawyers will not be able to visit the Teranet office in person to deliver cheques or paper documents. A temporary post office box has been set up to receive mail. Teranet has also implemented a 72 hour hold on mail. As a result, until further notice the Law Society will allow firms to send a trust cheque to the Teranet PO box before closing, provided that the member ensures that, if the transaction does not close, the trust money sent to Teranet will be returned forthwith to the trust account. For more information please see here.
- Execution of Wills – During Covid-19 Pandemic: Some Manitoba lawyers have asked about alternatives to the formal requirements for execution that are set out in The Wills Act. The Law Society can’t advise you not to comply with the legislative requirements. However, Manitoba lawyers should look at the curative provisions in s. 23 of the Wills Act. For more information please see here.
We understand that these issues, among others, are difficult to navigate given the circumstances we are facing. While many of these decisions do not fall within the authority of the Law Society of Manitoba, we are making every effort to facilitate further discussions with stakeholders to provide clarity and further advice to lawyers.
Law offices encouraged to continue operations using remote business models
Since the onset of this unprecedented event, we have seen the legal community respond as leaders in innovative and creative ways by adapting their practices to ensure continued access to justice for clients. These important measures contribute to our collective efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
The Law Society of Manitoba implemented a work from home plan for our own employees effective March 18. We encourage all law offices to do the same by operating remotely and virtually wherever it is feasible to do so. In those circumstances where it is not possible please comply with all directives from Public Health Authorities to ensure your safety and that of your staff, your clients and your families.
Social Distancing and the Law Courts
There have been reported instances of lawyers attending at the Law Courts and the Great Library notwithstanding a recent return from international travel. This is of course, contrary to the emergency measures put in place by the Government of Canada, which requires mandatory 14-day self-isolation for all persons entering Canada. Failing to follow those recommendations puts others at risk including your colleagues, court staff and the public. Please refrain from attending the Law Courts if you have been traveling or are feeling ill or have any flu-like symptoms.
Access to Great Library Resources
For the safety of our members, the Great Library is closed indefinitely. As a semi-public and unstaffed space, we are unable to maintain a level of cleaniness on our equipment and resources to ensure the safety of our members.
We encourage members to use our subscription resources available behind the member portal,and when those aren’t enough, to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Working remotely, we continue to have access to all of our databases, and can provide you material you may not be able to retrieve on your own. For more information please see here.
Mental Health Supports
Manitoba Blue Cross has developed an excellent resource to assist all of us to cope with the stress and anxiety associated with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including tips for self-care, managing anxiety and accessing support. You can link to it here.
You can also contact the Lawyers Health and Wellness Program at any time at 204-786-8880 or toll free at 1-800-590-5553.