Starting June 1, 2017, certain small claims disputes will be adjudicated online rather than in a traditional courtroom in British Columbia, thanks to the Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT), the first online tribunal of its kind in Canada.

The CRT is a recent provincial initiative that will significantly change how certain small claims disputes and strata property matters are adjudicated in British Columbia. It is intended to provide a flexible dispute resolution forum where parties can engage online. This means that parties involved in a dispute regarding certain small claims and strata property matters are not required to appear in court to have their disputes adjudicated.

The provisions of the Civil Resolution Tribunal Act (CRTA) regarding strata disputes came into force on July 13, 2016, and additional provisions granting the CRT the authority to adjudicate certain small claims matters will come into force on June 1, 2017.

In addition to these developments, the jurisdiction of the Provincial Small Claims Court will also increase from C$25,000 to C$35,000 on June 1, 2017.

JURISDICTION

The CRT currently has jurisdiction over minor strata disputes, but will become mandatory for all small claims actions under C$5,000 on June 1, 2017, except in limited circumstances. Those circumstances include situations in which: the CRT does not have jurisdiction; a judge orders that a matter proceed in Provincial Small Claims Court rather than the CRT; a party files a notice of objection to a CRT decision; or a party askes to have a CRT order enforced in the Provincial Court of British Columbia (Provincial Court).

With respect to small claims matters, the CRT will have authority to adjudicate claims involving debt, contracts and personal injury. Although the CRT’s jurisdiction will initially be limited to matters of up to C$5,000, this amount is expected to increase over time.

With respect to strata disputes, the CRT can adjudicate everyday issues such as parking, fines, irregularities in the conduct of meetings and disputes regarding common property. In contrast, the CRT cannot hear claims involving real property matters or claims involving significant strata issues.

APPEAL PROCESS

Although both small claims matters and strata disputes will go through the same process at the CRT, appeals of these two kinds of claims are treated differently by the CRTA. In regards to strata disputes, the CRT’s decisions have a high degree of finality. A litigant may appeal a question of law arising out of a decision to the B.C. Supreme Court, but only if they are granted permission to do so by the court.

In contrast, once the small claims provisions of the CRTA come into force, a party who is dissatisfied with the outcome of a small claims matter in the CRT will generally be able to appeal the CRT’s decision to the Provincial Court. However, the CRTA will contain provisions to discourage people from unnecessarily appealing small claims decisions. For example, it will allow a judge of the Provincial Court to require an appealing party to pay a deposit of up to C$1,000 to the court as a condition of the appeal.

HOW ORGANIZATIONS PARTICIPATE

If a party participating in the CRT is an organization, then that party must act through an approved representative who has the authority to bind the organization at all stages of the CRT’s process. Specifically, if a party is an incorporated entity, the entity must act through a director, officer or employee; if a party is partnership, the partnership must act through a partner or authorized employee; and if a party is a strata corporation, the strata corporation must act through an authorized member of the strata council.