Practice Direction on Hearing Formats
During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Tribunals Ontario has developed the following approach to the form of its proceedings (hearing formats) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the purpose of this Practice Direction, "tribunal" means any board or tribunal that falls within Tribunals Ontario.

At this time, there are no in-person hearings. All hearings are being conducted by written hearing, telephone hearing or videoconference hearing.

The practice of scheduling in-person hearings is informed by the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic. Indefinitely adjourning matters that previously would have been heard in-person to an unknown date in the future does not promote Tribunals Ontario's mandate to provide fair, efficient, effective and timely services to the people of Ontario.

The procedure outlined in this document provides general information only. It is not a rule within the meaning of any tribunals' rules of practice and procedure.

Hearing Formats

In accordance with its rules of practice and procedure, the tribunal may conduct hearings in person, in writing, by telephone, or by other electronic means including videoconferencing, as it considers appropriate.

In a written hearing, the tribunal makes its decision based on the written materials filed by the parties.

In a telephone hearing, the tribunal hears the parties' evidence and legal argument by telephone.

In a videoconference hearing, the tribunal hears the parties' evidence and legal argument by videoconference using the internet and device with a webcam. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Tribunals Ontario has adopted the use of video conferencing to conduct hearings which previously would have been held in-person, where technically feasible and procedurally appropriate.

Tribunals Ontario has adopted a Guide to Videoconferencing Proceedings and Microsoft Teams for its tribunals. It can be found here.

What if a Party Wants a Different Hearing Format?

A party may object to the hearing format.

Parties, representatives and witnesses are entitled to accommodation of Human Rights Code-related needs and may request a different hearing format if accommodation is required. Hearing format accommodation requests should be made as soon as possible in accordance with the tribunal's rules of practice and procedure. Parties may be asked to provide supporting documentation.

A party may be of the view that the hearing format chosen by the tribunal is not appropriate. If so, a party may request a different hearing format using the procedure set out in the tribunal's rules of practice and procedure for raising preliminary issues.

A tribunal adjudicator will consider the parties' arguments and make a decision as to whether the hearing format chosen by the tribunal is appropriate.

Factors Considered for Requests to Change the Hearing Format

The circumstances where the tribunal will not hold a written or an electronic hearing are set out in each tribunals' rules of practice and procedure and any applicable legislation. In general,

Some of the factors that the tribunal may consider where a party objects to proceeding by electronic hearing include where a party or a witness cannot participate because they do not have the necessary equipment, whether the tribunal can conduct a procedurally fair hearing in an electronic format, and the delay arising from indefinitely postponing an in-person hearing. This is not an exhaustive list. Each case is different.

The tribunal may hold a written hearing or an electronic hearing even where both parties oppose the format chosen by the tribunal. Decisions regarding the appropriate hearing format remain at the discretion of the tribunal adjudicator assigned to hear the application.