Typically civil litigation in Ontario is conducted either in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice or in the Federal Court of Canada, depending upon the nature of the dispute and occasionally upon the choices made by counsel where there is overlapping jurisdiction.
Ontario Superior Court of Justice
The Ontario Superior Court of Justice is a court of general jurisdiction where most civil litigation is conducted, in accordance with rules of procedure which are for the most part generally applicable to all kinds of disputes. However, within the Superior Court are various branches or procedural regimes which may lend themselves, sometimes on a voluntary and sometimes on a compulsory basis, to particular kinds of disputes.
Small Claims Court
The Small Claims Court is a court dedicated to claims of limited monetary value (effective January 1, 2010, up to $25,000.00). It's procedures are intended to be flexible and simple, so that people involved in small disputes can have access to the court without necessarily requiring the assistance of lawyers to do so. Nonetheless, in some cases you may wish to have the assistance of a lawyer or articling student even in Small Claims Court. Even when amounts at issue are comparatively small, the legal issues associated with them can still be complex. It is often prudent to speak to a lawyer about a Small Claims proceeding first, even if you decide to pursue it on your own afterward.
For cases involving more than the Small Claims Court jurisdiction allows but less than, effective January 1, 2010, $100,000.00, there is a Simplified Procedure that usually applies. It is more complex and less flexible than the procedure used in Small Claims Court, but is nonetheless intended to permit a (relatively) small case to be taken through to completion at reasonable expense. Therefore, Simplified Procedure is designed to be less extensive than normal procedure. This can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending upon the nature of the case.
Commercial List - Toronto
In Toronto, the Court operates a "Commercial List" which typically involves streamlined procedure and active case management by judges in matters of Bankruptcy and Insolvency as well as other specific kinds of commercial disputes that are delineated by the Court. It is often the preferred venue for resolution of disputes that need to be dealt with expeditiously in order to permit business needs to be met.
The Family Court is a branch of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice that has particular jurisdiction over specified family related litigation in certain areas in which it operates.
Class Proceedings are available in the province of Ontario, and are heard in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
Federal Court of Canada
The Federal Court is a statutory court operating throughout Canada within specified areas of federal jurisdiction. In some cases the Federal Court's jurisdiction is exclusive; in others it is concurrent, meaning that a dispute of a particular nature could be taken either to the Federal Court or to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
The Federal Court has its own rules of procedure. Typically, in civil cases, disputes will be brought to the Federal Court either because there is no other choice, because the subject matter is an area where the Court is seen to have particular expertise, or because the nature of the dispute involves more than one Canadian province geographically. Since the Federal Court is a Canadian Court and not the court of a particular province, it's orders are immediately enforceable anywhere in Canada.
Most commonly, civil proceedings brought in Federal Court involve either: (a) lawsuits involving the "Crown" that is, the government of Canada, (b) appeals or judicial reviews of the decisions of federal boards, commissions or tribunals, (c) maritime law, or (d) intellectual property disputes.
Lloyd's view: Which court or process you can access, and which court or process you want to access, when you have a choice, always depends upon the particular kind of problem you have. However, recognizing that you may have options (and there may be others not canvassed here), each with its own advantages and disadvantages, is the first step to decision making about resolving a dispute in court - a key element of intelligent litigating.