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Evil tongues among lawyers call it “Animal Farm” because of its somewhat informal nature, but it must be admitted that lawyers have their own reasons to despise it: they are not allowed to attend or represent clients! Parties heard before the Small Claims Division of the Court of Quebec argue and defend themselves with the Court.

Created in 1972 to provide access to justice, this court is ideal for disputes under $15,000. All you have to do is fill out the form and pay the fee, ranging from $108 to $217 depending on the amount required. And you yourself can present your arguments to the magistrate!

In 2018-2019, the last pre-pandemic year, the Small Claims Office opened 22,000 cases of all kinds in money cases of all kinds.

In addition to the absence of a lawyer, another important feature of small claims is the judge. The only robe in plain sight, he does not have the role of arbitrator, as in other courts, he is rather both an inquisitor and a guide: His Honor directs the process, conducts interrogation and judges, but also popularizes the legal proceedings for the benefit of the parties and advises them from time to time. The clerk can also help them.

The way I discovered the small claims is pretty funny. In the 90s, I was called to testify for a freelance friend whose publisher refused to pay. The judge questioned me for two minutes about the case, then asked: “Are you news who conducted the investigation of the Caisse de depot et Placement?

“Yes, Judge.

– It was really good. You can sit down. »

How it works

Although the Small Claims Division is limited to money cases up to $15,000, according to statistics, the amounts in question tend to be well below that ceiling: approximately 37% of cases are under $3,000 and in 20% of cases, $12,000 at stake.

If the claim exceeds the limit, you must apply to the High Court, where you will be represented by a lawyer. BUT you have the right to reduce the amount of the claim to $15,000 (before interest) to take advantage of small claims. (No, you cannot split a $25,000 box into two $12,500 boxes.)

The rules of the game are fundamentally egalitarian: only individuals and companies with fewer than 10 employees can apply. And you have the right to sue anyone you want, up to the government. However, some types of cases cannot be considered (rent, alimony, class action, defamation).

In addition to paying the fee and completing the form, you must provide proof that you notified the defendant of your intentions by means of a legal notice. This is a payment order sent by registered mail. The ministry website explains how to write this document (a lawyer is not required).

The court has legal advisers who can help you file your lawsuit. It also offers a free three-hour mediation service. Also in 2018-2019, mediation was used in about 12% of open cases, and almost two-thirds of mediation cases were resolved in an average of 191 days. When it comes to court, it takes more than 324 days.


The rate depends on the reaction of the opposite side. After being notified of your claim, the defendant has 20 days to respond. This response may be payment of the amount claimed, an offer of settlement, a dispute, or a counterclaim (in which the defendant becomes the plaintiff).

In a court session, each side presents its physical evidence and witnesses as evidence, and it is the weight and logic of the arguments that take precedence (what is called the preponderance of the evidence, which I spoke about in the previous chronicle).

Judgment can take place in three stages: after hearing, of course, but also before. If the defendant has not responded within 20 days and remains outside the proceedings, the judge may decide in absentia. The same is true at the court session if the defendant does not appear. In some cases, the special secretary may also make a decision on the basis of supporting documents.

Of course, this form of cheap justice has its drawbacks. Quebec, with its $15,000 limit, is a bit stingy. New Brunswick is $20,000, Ontario and Alberta get $35,000 and $50,000 respectively.

The judge’s decision is final. It is possible to seek a rebuttal in the case of a default judgment if the defendant has a good reason for remaining out of the discussion, for example, he was never informed of the proceedings against him.

Contrary to the rules of the ordinary justice system, each party may withhold the identity of its witnesses until the hearing of the case. This may cause some unpleasant surprises.

There must be an element of suspense.

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