Canada: Apologizing - Keeping Dispute Resolution Simple

Last Updated: December 7 2012
Article by Debbie Asirvatham

Most Read Contributor in Canada, September 2016

While negotiation, mediation, arbitration and litigation all have their benefits, and may be needed in some circumstances, there is a far simpler dispute resolution tool which has proven itself in personal and professional disputes and yet continues to fly under the radar. Sometimes a simple apology goes a long way in helping to resolve disputes efficiently and favourably.


While most people recognize the value of apologies for mending personal relationships, many remain uncertain of their place in commercial disputes. Fearing that an apology will be taken as an admission of fault, business people tend to shy away from admitting mistakes or sounding remorseful. The perceived risk that such statements might void insurance coverage or negate litigation defenses often quashes any interest in apologizing.


These fears, while prevalent, are not necessarily well-founded. Canadian courts have often handled apologies quite favourably, placing little or no emphasis on them when assessing liability. The protection extended to apologies has been further enhanced by legislation in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland & Labrador, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Nunavut and Saskatchewan (Prince Edward Island has limited its apology legislation to the health services industry, and it is not considered in this article).

Compared to its foreign counterparts, Canadian apology legislation is quite broad. It protects both expressions of sympathy and statements that indicate or imply an admission of fault. The protection is available in all kinds of civil cases, which makes apologies a useful tool in a wide range of disputes.

In general, apology legislation provides that an apology:

1. is not an admission of fault;

2. may not be considered in any determination of fault;

3. is inadmissible as evidence of fault; and

4. does not impair, void or otherwise affect any insurance coverage, regardless of any wording to the contrary in the policy itself or any other legislation.

This legislation is designed to assuage concerns about the legal impact of apologies. As stated by the BC Legislative Assembly "The Apology Act encourages the moral and humane behavior of apologizing for wrongdoings and promotes open and direct dialogue between persons in conflict."


When settlement discussions are driven by financial considerations, it's easy to lose sight of the human elements involved in the dispute, particularly in negligence and other tort claims. Legal remedies are typically monetary awards, which are often insufficient to compensate people who have suffered without experiencing a monetary loss. When a person is fueled by a sense of anger, injustice, hurt or pain, the most meaningful component of any compensation offered may well be an apology.

Studies have shown that properly apologizing when a complaint is made or a possible error comes to light can result in one or more of the following benefits:

1. a decrease in the frequency and number of lawsuits;

2. more efficient settlement negotiations; and

3. more favourable amounts of damages agreed to in settlement or awarded at trial.


Anyone who has been on the receiving end of a half-hearted apology knows how unsatisfactory they are. In fact, some studies suggest that a settlement offer including a partial apology is more likely to be refused than the same offer without any apology at all.

Some jurisdictions outside Canada do not protect full apologies; parties are restricted to offering their regrets without actually apologizing for the harm done. Fortunately, Canadian apology legislation does protect full apologies, which are the most effective in settling disputes.

The key elements of a proper apology can be summarized by the five R's: Regret, Recognition, Responsibility, Remedy and "Realness".


This is the "I'm sorry" component of the traditional apology. You must convey a sense of empathy for the recipient. This may be the most crucial aspect of any apology.


For an apology to be meaningful, you have to know what you are apologizing for. A proper apology should convey an understanding of, and regret for, the inconvenience, harm, loss or suffering caused (or perceived to have been caused) by your actions. However, avoid getting into granular details, which might be taken as admissions of fact.


This is where apologies get tricky, because human instinct is to deflect blame. Canadian apology legislation is designed to protect against the risk of having an apology used against you as an admission of fault. The recipient is more likely to accept your apology if they do not see you as making excuses for your actions. Nevertheless, while taking responsibility is important, avoid making admissions of fact, as those may be held against you if the dispute goes to court.


A true apology indicates a willingness to remedy the situation. This is often a two-step process. First, you need to make restitution for the harm already caused. Second, you need to satisfy the recipient that the situation will not be repeated in the future.


An apology should be genuine, voluntary and prompt. One that is perceived as insincere generally does more harm than good. If the recipient has to extract the apology from you,don't expect to be forgiven.

A delay in offering an apology may also affect how it is perceived. In Ontario the Legislature clarified that apologies offered during court testimony (i.e. in discovery or at trial) will be denied the protection of the Apology Act. Such apologies are likely too late to be considered genuine and will have little benefit, if any, towards favourably resolving the dispute. They may even be taken as admissions of fault.


While apologies have proven beneficial in many situations, you should give careful thought to their wording, their timing, and the particular circumstances and parties involved. A few tips and cautionary notes are set out below:

The laws are not the same across the board

If you are dealing with an international matter seek legal advice before offering an apology, as there are significant differences between jurisdictions about when an apology qualifies for statutory protection. There are also subtle differences between the Canadian provincial statutes, which you should become familiar with.

The provincial Apology Acts do not apply to the criminal context

If you're looking to apologize for a potentially criminal offense, the provincial Apology Acts will not help you. These statutes do not change the way an apology is treated in the criminal context. Nor do they apply to other matters exclusively within federal jurisdiction.

Delayed apologies can cause limitation difficulties

Aside from affecting how an apology is perceived, a delay in offering an apology may revive a cause of action whose limitation period has expired. Many provincial Apology Acts expressly state that an apology is not a confirmation or acknowledgement of a cause of action for limitation purposes. However, the Manitoba statute remains silent on this issue, and the Ontario statute leaves the question open by stating that it does not affect whether an apology is an acknowledgement of liability for limitation purposes.

Better results are not guaranteed

An apology doesn't guarantee forgiveness and is far from a "get out of jail free" card. It does not eliminate the right to sue and it does not necessarily make parties more amenable to settlement negotiations. While apologies are a useful dispute resolution tool, if you are relying solely on an apology to escape liability you may be disappointed.

This could be a developing area of law

Although apology legislation has been in place for several years in some provinces, there is little jurisprudence analyzing its effectiveness. While this could mean that apologies are being used as intended, the lack of judicial comment does leave room for ambiguity.

Opposing counsel may try to emphasize your apology

Notwithstanding the protective legislation, if the dispute goes to court, opposing counsel will likely try to present your apology as evidence of liability. It will be up to your counsel and the judge to ensure that your apology is afforded the intended protection.

Apologies mixing statements of fact are problematic

There is some jurisprudence which suggests that admissions of fact are not protected by apology legislation. For example, consider a situation where Driver A collides with Driver B and says, "I'm so sorry, this is all my fault. I was looking at my cell phone instead of the road." The admission about Driver A's lack of attention is quite likely relevant to liability. Even though coupled with an apology, it might be admitted into evidence.

This may warrant greater concern when apologies are written. If an apology letter contains statements of fact in addition to an apology, a version with the apology redacted out might be admissible evidence in court.


Apologies are a useful tool in the early resolution of civil disputes. Provided they are made effectively and within the parameters of the protective legislation, they should be embraced rather than feared.

About BLG

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.