Important Considerations for Foreigners Suing in Ontario Small Claims Court

If I live in the States, under what circumstances do I have to sue a person in an Ontario small claims court?

In most jurisdictions, including Ontario, the plaintiff (claimant) must sue the defendant in the small claims court of the jurisdiction where the defendant resides or carries on business. So, if you are, for example, a resident of Chicago with a dispute with someone who lives in Toronto, you would, generally, file the small claims lawsuit in Toronto Small Claims Court. In practice, this also makes sense because it makes enforcement of (collection on) the judgment, if such is received, easier, since a defendant who lives in Toronto is most likely to have property or other assets in this jurisdiction or somewhere in Ontario. Filing the small claim in the province where assets are held will, later on, save you the trouble of confirming a judgment from another jurisdiction in Ontario, since a judgment from elsewhere can’t be enforced in Ontario without such confirmation.

Does the fact that I am from another country or province have any impact on the actual content or amount of my small claim?

Yes, to an extent. If you are suing an individual or corporation in an Ontario small claims court, the laws of Ontario will apply to your small claim. Ontario laws may differ from other jurisdictions, which may affect the outcome of your case. In our practice, however, this has not caused problems for plaintiffs – Ontario laws, especially with respect to common disputes that arise (debts, sales transactions, etc) are generally similar to other jurisdictions and reasonable enough to not put the plaintiff at any significant disadvantage. A more important concern is the currency in which the small claim is made. In Ontario, any claim must be made in Canadian dollars. So, if you live in, for example, Australia, and the dispute was about some sum of Australian dollars, for the purposes of your small claim, this sum in Australian dollars must be converted to Canadian dollars at the appropriate exchange rate.

Do I have to travel to Ontario if I am suing someone in an Ontario small claims court?

Generally, if you retain a representative, your personal involvement would be limited to attending the trial in your matter to appear as a witness, if the process does go to trial. Apart from that, your representative can carry out most actions on your behalf in your absence, having communicated with you over the phone, online or by e-mail. Your representative can:

  • Prepare and file a claim in the small claims court
  • Correspond with the opposing party and the court
  • Attend a settlement conference on your behalf and negotiating a settlement in accordance with your instructions (though you would have to be available for consultation by telephone)

If no settlement is reached, your appearance (as well as that of your witnesses) is required for trial because the plaintiff him or herself is almost always a key witness, and his or her presence is otherwise required by the court. You would know the date of trial several months in advance to have adequate time to make travel arrangements.

To sum up, it is definitely manageable and possible for a person living abroad to sue another entity in an Ontario Small Claims Court. As final advice, be sure to find a representative you can trust, since you would have somewhat less direct oversight of his or her activity, and remember to weigh the cost of travel arrangements when considering the amount of possible settlements that can be reached with the defendant.

Don’t hesitate to contact us to see if your dispute should, in fact, be pursued in an Ontario small claims court.

As always wishing you a life free of legal hassles!

Sylvie, Toronto

I really appreciated your attention to details, your level of preparation which was impressive, and enthusiasm. I am really happy we have Spectrum Paralegal in our corner. Thank you for being the champion of our small claims court!