Just two months in, B.C.'s new online tribunal for small claims has already received hundreds of disputes and is now scrambling to hire more staff to address the caseload.
The Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) is currently juggling 789 disputes for small claims under $5,000 — cases that were only redirected to the tribunal on June 1.
In an email obtained by CBC News, the CRT's director of case management explained to a frustrated Metro Vancouver man why his dispute was taking longer to resolve than he hoped.
"We're dealing with disputes in the order in which they were filed and we simply don't have adequate staffing to deal with the number of disputes we have. We are working on increasing our staffing levels, but it is a very slow process," Kandis McCall writes in the email, received Thursday.
The recipient of the email forwarded it to the CBC because he said he was frustrated by the wait.
A heavy workload
The tribunal first opened in July 2016, and at first accepted only strata disputes involving condo owners. The idea was to free up resources in B.C.'s strained justice system.
In more than a year of operation, fewer than 600 strata disputes have been filed, according to the CRT's chair, Shannon Salter.
Last March, the B.C. Ministry of Justice announced that starting June 1, it would make it mandatory for small claims under $5,000 to go through the tribunal.
But the move quickly increased the workload.
"In the last 10 weeks, we've received significantly more small claims disputes than we had with respect to strata disputes the entire year before," Salter said.
The influx of new disputes wasn't exactly a surprise — B.C.'s small claims courts normally see between 350 and 450 new cases each month, according to Salter.
In preparation for the increase in cases, the tribunal has steadily been adding more staff members to help the two sides reach a resolution in every dispute, Salter said.
Right now, there are nine facilitators on staff, along with contractors from Mediate BC, but the CRT also hopes to hire another three new staff members in the near future.
"As you know, hiring can be a bit slower in the summer, but we're acting quickly to make sure the CRT has the appropriate number of staff," Salter said.
'It's a new organization'
The tribunal also offers services by mail or phone, but so far more than 98 per cent of people have chosen to take their disputes online, she added. About 45 per cent are accessing those services outside of normal court hours — mainly on evenings and weekends.
The ultimate goal for the tribunal is to resolve all complaints within 90 days of beginning facilitation with a staff member.
"We've been clear that we won't be able to hit that target right off the bat, because it's a new organization," Salter said.
"Just by way of comparison, the court process can take between eight to 10 months."
She pointed out that more than 4,000 people have used the tribunal's online solutions explorer in the last 10 weeks to look into their legal rights and find ways to resolve their small claims disputes, and the vast majority of those have not filed claims.
The map below shows where in B.C. — and around the world — CRT disputes originate.