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A Statement from the Action Committee

Our Committee exists to support Canada’s courts as they work to protect the health and safety of all court users in the COVID-19 context while upholding the fundamental values of our justice system. These mutually sustaining commitments guide all of our efforts.

The Action Committee on Court Operations in Response to COVID-19 has released this Tip Sheet to help guide the safe resumption of court operations in Canada.

This Tip Sheet is intended to share information on practices adopted throughout various jurisdictions in Canada as it relates to contact tracing and court operations. This guidance is not exhaustive and is advisory only; it is not intended to replace applicable laws and regulations relating to health and safety, privacy or the protection of personal information, nor does following this guidance ensure compliance with those laws and regulations. As contact tracing is a provincial or territorial lead, any specific questions or issues should be referred to the local public health authority or legal counsel supporting contact tracing.

Contact Tracing in Court Operations

Court operations play an integral role in the Canadian justice system. One of the many issues faced by the courts during the pandemic are challenges identifying those who may have been exposed to COVID-19 to ensure the safety of justice participants and the public. Led by the provinces and territories, contact tracing is the process of getting in touch with people who may have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus and making sure they are taking measures to control its spread. This is done so these individuals can be informed of their possible infection and take measures to quarantine and be monitored for symptoms. This helps to ensure they receive the necessary care and treatment and helps prevent further transmission.

Should a person receive a positive test for COVID-19, they will be contacted by the local public health authority. Among other things, the person conducting the contact tracing will interview the person to identify people they have spent time with. These people are generally referred to as “contacts”. In turn, the local public health authority gets in touch with these contacts and asks them about COVID-19 symptoms. Contacts with symptoms are sent for testing while contacts with no symptoms are asked to self-isolate for a certain duration of time. Overall, the process of contact tracing assists people receiving an earlier diagnosis and reduces the chance of spreading the virus. It should be noted that the protocols for contact tracing may vary depending on the policies and practices of the local public health authority.

Recommendations for Integrating Contact Tracing within Court Operations

  • Wherever possible and subject to applicable legislation, it is recommended that information be collected for contact tracing purposes to support the local health authority. Practically speaking, this information is primarily done through the screening process upon entry to the court facility. Court personnel may request individuals attending the court facility to provide information such as their name, contact information (phone or e-mail address), date and time of visit and specific areas to be visited in the facility. In the event of a COVID-19 outbreak, this information would assist the local public health authority to identify the names and contact information of persons in attendance at a court location during a specific timeframe for the purposes of contact tracing.
  • A designated point of contact should be identified as responsible to act as a primary liaison between court personnel and the local public health authority (ex. to assist the public health authority identify and notify any persons exposed to COVID-19 at the court facility). This designated official may also act as a point of contact for any questions arising from the application of this Tip Sheet.
  • Establishing protocols in accordance with the laws, regulations and policies of that particular jurisdiction on the proper handling, storage, retention, dissemination and destruction of any personal information collected for the purposes of contact tracing.
  • Establishing a communications strategy on contact tracing to inform court users and personnel of any positive cases in the courts in a timely manner, and of response measures taken to notify exposed persons. This communications strategy should integrate advice from the local public health authority to ensure the continued health and safety of all court users and personnel while protecting the privacy and personal information of those who have tested positive or been exposed to COVID-19.
  • Utilizing technology to assist contact tracers. For instance, the Government of Canada has developed an app (“COVID-19 Alert”) that individuals can download to their phone that will keep track of other phones that have been in close proximity (provided the app is downloaded). This app has strong privacy protection, as a person’s identity and health status are not shared with the Government of Canada. It is designed so that health information stays with the provincial or territorial health care provider. This technology allows contact tracers to address some of the critical barriers during contact tracing such as poor recall and being unaware of all of the possible contact that may have occurred.

Resources and References

Government of Canada, Statistics Canada and Contact Tracing - https://www.statcan.gc.ca/eng/transparency-accountability/contacttracing#:~:text=Contact%20tracing%20activities%20are%20led%20by%20the%20provinces, to%20help%20meet

Government of Ontario, Ministry of the Attorney General, COVID-19: Recommended Precautionary Measures Resuming Court Operations (26 Nov 2020), https://files.ontario.ca/mag-covid-19-recommended-precautionary-measures-en-2020-12-01.pdf

Government of British Columbia, BC Centre for Disease Control, Contact Tracing, http://www.bccdc.ca/health-info/diseases-conditions/covid-19/self-isolation/contact-tracing

Government of British Columbia, BC Centre for Disease Control, Guidance for Courthouses During the COVID-19 Pandemic, http://www.bccdc.ca/Health-InfoSite/Documents/COVID_public_guidance/Guidance_Court_Settings.pdf

Government of British Columbia, BC Centre for Disease Control, Communication and Incident Protocol: Notification of Potential COVID-19 Incidents and/or Testing at or Related to Courthouses, http://www.bccdc.ca/Health-InfoSite/Documents/COVID_public_guidance/Protocol_Communication_Testing_Court_Facilities .pdf

Government of Canada, Download COVID-19 App Today, https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/coronavirus-disease-covid19/covid-alert.html#a2