Lawyering and Regulating During a Global Pandemic

  • November 18, 2020
  • Michael Rusek, senior legal counsel, Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council (OMVIC)

Into the Lockdown

Life has changed for lawyers practicing inhouse at a regulator.  For lawyers more accustomed to cases slowly playing out over the course of several months and years, being asked to provide a legal opinion virtually on the spot is an unusual experience. Being asked to provide a legal opinion which could immediately close down the livelihood of tens of thousands of Ontarians makes it a terrifying experience.

But there we were late in the afternoon of March 23, 2020, a small group of inhouse counsel with the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council (OMVIC), straining to make sense of a closely-spaced email from the Premier’s office containing the first of the provincial government’s Orders-in-Council mandating the closure of all non-essential workplaces due to COVID-19.

As the regulator of the automotive sales industry in Ontario, OMVIC has the delegated authority to enforce the law as it applies to over 8,000 registered dealers and 30,000 salespersons. The problem was that the law – in the form of the just signed Order-in-Council issued from the Premier’s office – was unclear on whether automobile dealerships were essential workplaces and could continue to operate, or whether they and the rest of the multi-billion dollar industry would have to shutter their doors for the indefinite future.