Canada: La Cour Suprême Du Canada Rend Une Décision À L’effet Que Le Critère Des Questions Communes En Matière De Recours Collectifs Est Décrit En Termes Plus Larges Et Flexibles Au Québec

Le 16 janvier 2014, la Cour suprême du Canada (CSC) a rendu sa décision dans l'affaire Vivendi Canada Inc. c. Dell'Aniello. La CSC a conclu que le critère des questions communes en matière d'autorisation d'un recours collectif au Québec est décrit en termes plus larges et plus flexibles que dans les provinces de common law. Dans une décision unanime, la CSC a statué qu'il n'est pas nécessaire que les questions communes mènent à des réponses communes afin de rencontrer ce critère. Il suffit d'avoir une question de droit ou de faits identique, similaire ou connexe, qui, une fois réponse obtenue, saura résoudre une partie du litige. La CSC a également confirmé que l'autorisation du recours collectif au Québec doit être accordée, une fois que les quatre critères pour l'autorisation sont rencontrés. Le principe de la proportionnalité doit être considéré lors de l'évaluation des quatre critères au moment de l'autorisation, mais ce principe ne constitue pas un critère additionnel en soit.

Mise en contexte

Le requérant a déposé une Requête en autorisation d'exercer un recours collectif suite à une modification unilatérale faite par Vivendi S.A. (Vivendi) à son régime d'assurance-maladie (Régime). Les modifications contestées avaient pour effet de réduire la couverture pour les soins médicaux couverts par le Régime.

La Cour supérieure a rejeté la requête en autorisation au motif que le critère des questions communes n'était pas rencontré. Le juge d'autorisation a basé cette conclusion sur le fait qu'il y avait cinq sous-groupes parmi le groupe proposé et que les droits concernant chaque sous-groupe étaient différents. Ainsi, il serait nécessaire de procéder à de multiples analyses individuelles afin de déterminer les droits afférents aux différents groupes. Le juge a conclu que les droits de certains membres du groupe n'avaient pas encore été cristallisés et que, vu que les membres du groupe habitaient dans différentes provinces, il serait nécessaire d'analyser les réclamations à la lumière des différentes lois provinciales applicables.  

La Cour d'appel a renversé le jugement de première instance et a autorisé le recours collectif. La Cour d'appel a conclu que le juge de première instance a erré en décidant que le critère des questions communes n'était pas rencontré. Il suffisait au juge d'autorisation de décider si les questions relatives à la validité ou à la légalité des modifications au Régime étaient identiques, similaires ou connexes pour les réclamations de la totalité des membres du groupe proposé. La Cour d'appel était également d'avis que le juge de première instance a outrepassé les limites en adressant la question de la cristallisation des droits, puisqu'il s'agit plutôt d'une question devant être décidée au fond.

Vivendi en a appelé de cette décision auprès de la CSC.

Le critère des questions communes

La CSC s'est penchée sur le critère des questions communes en matière d'autorisation d'un recours collectif au Québec en vertu de l'article 1003 a) du Code de procédure civile (C.p.c.), qui prévoit que « les recours des membres soulèvent des questions de droit ou de faits identiques, similaires ou connexes », et a fait deux observations. D'abord, la CSC a souligné le fait que cette exigence réfère à des questions communes plutôt qu'à des réponses communes. Deuxièmement, la CSC a comparé le critère des questions communes au Québec avec le critère retrouvé dans les lois de diverses provinces de common law, pour conclure que ce critère est décrit en termes plus larges et plus flexibles au Québec, puisqu'il requiert l'existence de questions identiques, similaires ou connexes plutôt que simplement des « questions communes ». Selon la CSC, pas toutes les questions de droit ou de faits simplement « connexes » ou « similaires » peuvent être qualifiées de « questions communes ». Par conséquent, la CSC a conclu que le test au Québec est moins exigeant que le test retrouvé dans les provinces de common law.

Appliquant ces principes relatifs au critère des questions communes au Québec, la CSC a conclu que le juge d'autorisation a erré dans son analyse et que ce critère était rencontré puisque la requête contient des questions identiques, similaires ou connexes concernant la légalité ou la validité des modifications au Régime.

Le principe de la proportionnalité

Vivendi a fait valoir qu'une interprétation du critère des questions communes qui encourage la multiplicité des analyses au fond est contraire au principe de proportionnalité reconnu en procédure civile québécoise. La CSC a rejeté cette approche et a conclu que, dans le contexte d'un recours collectif, l'autorisation d'intenter un recours collectif ne peut être refusée sur la base du principe de la proportionnalité si les quatre critères prévus à l'article 1003 C.p.c. sont rencontrés. Cette conclusion est étayée par le fait qu'au moment de l'adoption des articles concernant les recours collectifs, le législateur québécois n'a pas exigé que le recours collectif soit le mode procédural « préférable ». Selon la CSC, les critères énoncés à l'article 1003 C.p.c. sont exhaustifs et le principe de la proportionnalité doit être considéré au moment de l'analyse de ces critères. Cependant, une fois que ces critères ont été respectés, il n'est pas possible de se fonder sur le principe de la proportionnalité pour refuser l'autorisation.

Conclusion

La décision de la CSC concernant l'interprétation de l'article 1003 a) C.p.c. est surprenante. Cependant, non seulement cette interprétation du critère des questions communes devrait être limitée au Québec, elle doit également se lire à la lumière des circonstances bien particulières de cette affaire. Le fait qu'il était possible d'obtenir une réponse à la question commune proposée de manière à faire avancer le litige pour une partie importante du groupe ou des sous-groupes suite au procès a été un facteur déterminant pour la Cour. Cependant, ce ne sera pas toujours le cas et il est tout de même possible de faire valoir que ce n'est pas toute question commune proposée dans un litige donné qui rencontrera ce test. Le demandeur devra démontrer que le procès pourra faire progresser le litige pour les membres du groupe.

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