Small Claims Cases

On June 1, 2017 there were changes in the laws governing Small Claims cases. Cases involving up to $5000 now go to the Civil Resolution Tribunal. The Provincial Court now deals with cases from $5001 to $35,000 in its “Small Claims court”. This page describes Small Claims court generally, and how matters may move from the Civil Resolution Tribunal to Small Claims Court.

Types of disputes you can bring to Small Claims court
The Small Claims Act gives the Provincial Court authority to decide cases when people (or other legal entities such as companies or societies) sue one another for up to $35,000 in claims for:

  • debt or damages
  • recovery of personal property or opposing claims to person property
  • performance of agreements about personal property or services.

The Provincial Court does not have the power to grant remedies in cases involving:

  • an interest in land
  • personal property security
  • bankruptcies
  • trademarks
  • wills and estates
  • libel and slander
  • malicious prosecution
  • residential tenancy (though Residential Tenancy Branch orders may be enforced in Provincial Court)
  • almost all builders' lien matters, and
  • lawsuits against the federal government.

For cases that can’t be brought to Provincial Court, see the websites of the BC Supreme Court, Residential Tenancies BC, or the Federal Court of Canada.

Different procedures apply to Small Claims cases, depending on the amount of money involved and the court location.

However, in any Small Claims trial if you do not have a lawyer you may find it helpful to bring a trusted friend or family member with you to provide emotional support, take notes, and organize documents. The Provincial Court has adopted Support Person Guidelines that explain when you are permitted to have a support person help you, and what they can do. For more information on Support Persons see this eNews article and poster.

Claims up to $5000
Claims up to $5000 must be taken to British Columbia’s new online Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) in cases involving:

  • debt or damages
  • recovery of personal property or opposing claims to person property
  • performance of agreements about personal property or services.

but not:

  • claims for libel, slander or malicious prosecution
  • claims for or against the government
  • claims excluded from the authority of the CRT by regulations (there are no such exclusions now)
  • a constitutional question (any question requiring notice under section 8 of the Constitutional Question Act)
  • a question of whether there is a conflict between the Human Rights Code and another law.

The CRT will provide a three-stage process involving:

  1. negotiation – first you will communicate online with the other party to see if you can quickly settle the dispute between yourselves
  2. facilitation – if that doesn’t work, trained CRT staff will try to help you settle
  3. adjudication – if you can’t resolve the dispute, a Tribunal member may make a decision and it can be enforced like a court order in the Provincial Court, unless you or the other party files a notice of objection.

For more information about the Civil Resolution Tribunal and how to use it, visit its website and the BC government website.

Will Provincial Court deal with claims under $5001 in any way?
The Civil Resolution Tribunal Act requires that disputes within the CRT’s authority, to be called “Tribunal Small Claims”, must go through the CRT process. However, a claim for less than $5001 will still come to Provincial Court in certain circumstances. For a quick overview of the pathways to Provincial Court see this flowchart.

When the CRT refuses to resolve a claim
The CRT can refuse to resolve a claim within its jurisdiction for several reasons, including that the claim:

  • is too complex or otherwise impractical for the CRT to manage or resolve
  • doesn’t disclose a reasonable claim or is an abuse of process
  • has been resolved through a legally binding process
  • involves a constitutional question or conflict between the Human Rights Code and another law or when the CRT is satisfied a Provincial Court Judge would grant an application for exemption if one were made.

section 11(1) CRT Act

When a party applies to Provincial Court to be exempted from the CRT
You may apply to Provincial Court for exemption from the CRT process and a judge may order the CRT not to facilitate or adjudicate a claim if:

  • the CRT doesn’t have jurisdiction (legal authority), or
  • it is not in the interests of justice and fairness for the CRT to facilitate or adjudicate the claim.

You must file an application for exemption in Provincial Court within 14 days after a response is made in the CRT. The CRT Act sets out factors a judge may consider.

sections 12.1 CRT, Rule 16.1, Small Claims Rules

When a party files a notice of objection
In adjudicated matters
If you are not satisfied with a CRT adjudicator’s decision you can file a notice of objection with the CRT within 28 days after you receive the decision. When that happens, the CRT final decision is not binding and it’s not enforceable.

But if you or the other party wants to pursue your claim or counterclaim in court, you can then file a Notice of CRT Claim in the Provincial Court and serve (deliver it to) the other party. The documents filed in the CRT become the pleadings (the documents setting out the claim and reply) in Provincial Court, and you will have a trial conference, if necessary followed by a trial, in Provincial Court.

sections 56.1 and 56.2 CRT Act, Rules 1.1(8), 7(2.2) and 7.5(1), Small Claims Rules

In “default” matters
In cases where a defendant didn’t file a response in the CRT but did file a Notice of Objection to the CRT decision in Provincial Court, there will be a settlement conference in Provincial Court, followed by a trial, if necessary. A settlement conference is held since the parties didn’t participate in the dispute resolution process at the CRT.

Rules 1.1 (20)-(25), 7(2), Small Claims Rules

Enforcement of CRT orders
Both negotiated consent orders and final decisions of the CRT can be filed in the Provincial Court for enforcement. Once filed, a CRT order has the same force as a Provincial Court judgment, and can be enforced using the same procedures. The Court enforces Residential Tenancy Branch orders in a similar way.

section 58.1 CRT Act

Claims for $5001 to $10,000 in Vancouver and Richmond
In Provincial Court in Vancouver and Richmond, Justice of the Peace Adjudicators may hold one-hour simplified trials for cases with a money value of $5001 to $10,000. In a simplified trial you or your lawyer will be asked to state the facts, file any documents you rely on, and respond to the other party. The Justice of the Peace Adjudicator may ask you questions, ask you to swear to the truth of your statement, permit witnesses, and allow you or your lawyer to ask the other party questions. They will provide their decision immediately or within not more than 30 days.

Claims for $10,001 to $35,000 in Vancouver and Richmond, and $5001 to $35,000 in other Provincial Court locations
These cases may be called “Small Claims” but we know how important they are to the people involved. The procedures for these cases haven’t changed – there is just a higher dollar limit.

Small Claims Court procedures are set out in the Small Claims Rules. They’re designed to be simple so people can feel comfortable proceeding without a lawyer if they don’t have one. However, consulting a lawyer can be very helpful. Some lawyers now provide “unbundled” services, helping you develop a plan to prepare and present your case and doing only the tasks you hire them for. At a minimum, a lawyer can tell you what you need to prove to establish your claim or defence, and advise you on the evidence you’ll need. For ways to get legal advice or find a lawyer see Getting a lawyer or legal advice.

You generally begin your Provincial Court Small Claims appearances by attending a settlement conference with a judge. If you can settle your dispute there you need not return to court. If you are not able to settle, you may be required to attend a trial conference to ensure everyone is prepared for trial. After that, you will be given a date for a trial, where a different judge will hear you and the other party and any relevant witnesses you bring to court, and make a decision based on the evidence presented in the trial. See Self Help Guides for tips on preparing for trial.

For more information see:

Alternatives to Court
The Peoples Law School offers step-by-step guidance on working our every day legal problems and a question and answer service. The Civil Resolution Tribunal’s Solution Explorer also offers information and tools. For alternatives to court, try the free, secure, online negotiation services offered by Small Claims BC or a private mediator. If you can’t settle your claim that way you can still go to the CRT or to court, depending on the value of your claim.

This website provides general information only and should not be used as legal advice.