Canada: Supreme Court Clarifies "Unlawful Means" Requirement In Tort Of Unlawful Interference With Economic Relations

On January 31, 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada released its unanimous decision in A.I. Enterprises Ltd. v. Bram Enterprises Ltd., clarifying and narrowing the common law tort of unlawful interference with economic relations (referred to by the Court as "the 'unlawful means' tort").


The Supreme Court summarized the facts of the case as follows:

A group of family members, through their companies, owned an apartment building. The majority of them wanted to sell it, but one of them did not. He took a series of actions to thwart the sale. The result was that the ultimate sale price was nearly $400,000 less than it otherwise might have been. When the majority sued to recover this loss, the main question was whether the dissenting family member and his company were liable for what the trial judge referred to as the tort of unlawful interference with economic relations.

Lower Court Decisions

The trial judge found that the unlawful means tort had been made out, focusing on four of the appellants' actions. The appellants had

  • misused arbitration provisions to stall the sale of the property;
  • advanced legally groundless defences for a "Notice of its first right of refusal," which they had filed against the property;
  • filed an equally baseless certificate of pending litigation against the property; and
  • denied prospective buyers entry to the property.

The trial judge found these acts had the effect of "complicating, delaying, impeding and ultimately and for all intents and purposes completely obstructing and preventing" the property from being sold to the prospective third-party purchasers. For the purposes of the unlawful means criterion, the trial judge found such conduct to be unlawful because "it lacked any legal basis or justification."

The New Brunswick Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal, but took a different view of the unlawful means tort. The Court reviewed in detail the House of Lords decision in OBG Ltd. v. Allen,1 which itself extensively reviewed the proper scope of economic torts in general, and of the unlawful means tort in particular. In OBG, Lord Hoffman, in the majority on this point, adopted a narrow definition of "unlawful means" whereby the unlawful conduct would need to be actionable by the party toward whom it was directed (who, in this case, would be the prospective third-party purchasers) to give rise to liability under the tort.

The New Brunswick Court of Appeal preferred Lord Hoffman's narrow definition of unlawful means. While the Court acknowledged that the conduct of the appellants (as reviewed above) was not actionable by the prospective third-party purchasers, to mitigate the effects of the rigid rule the Court of Appeal allowed for "principled exceptions" to actionability. Given its finding of a principled exception to the requirement for actionability, the Court of Appeal held that the appellants were indeed liable under the unlawful means tort.

Supreme Court Decision

Like the Court of Appeal and Lord Hoffman in OBG, the Supreme Court adopted a narrow approach to the unlawful means component. The Court found that the focus of the unlawful means tort is unlawful conduct that intentionally harms the plaintiff's economic interests.

Providing clarity regarding what conduct constitutes unlawful means, the Supreme Court confirmed that for conduct to be considered unlawful it must give rise to a civil cause of action by the third party if the third party had suffered loss (criminal offences and breaches of statute would not be per se actionable). However, the Supreme Court refused to recognize the principled exception identified by the Court of Appeal and, as a result, found that the unlawful means tort had not been made out by the respondents.

The Supreme Court identified many factors militating in favour of a narrow scope for the unlawful means tort:

  1. "Tort law has traditionally accorded less protection to purely economic interests than to physical integrity and property rights."
  2. "The common law has traditionally been reluctant to develop rules about fair competition."
  3. "The common law in the Anglo-Canadian tradition has generally promoted legal certainty for commercial affairs."
  4. "The risk inherent in the economic torts generally that they will undermine legislated schemes favouring collective action in, for example, labour relations and interfere with fundamental rights of association and expression."

The Supreme Court concluded its review regarding the unlawfulness requirement stating:

The limitation of unlawful means to actionable civil wrongs provides certainty and predictability in this area of the law, since it does not expand the types of conduct for which a defendant may be held liable but merely adds another plaintiff who may recover if intentionally harmed as a result of that conduct. While details relating to the scope of what is "actionable" may need to be worked out in the future, the basic contours of liability would be clear.

The Court also clarified that the unlawful means tort is not a last resort. The appellants had argued, as was the view of the Court of Appeal, that the unlawful means tort "should only be available where the defendant's conduct does not provide the plaintiff with any other cause of action against the defendant" (a view also adopted by the Court of Appeal for Ontario and followed by other Canadian courts). The Supreme Court rejected that requirement, stating that such a limitation is wrong in principle: "The gist of the tort is the targeting of the plaintiff by the defendant through the instrumentality of unlawful acts against a third party." The Court found that such conduct gives rise to liability "quite apart from conduct that may otherwise be actionable by the plaintiff," and further stated that "general principles of tort liability accept concurrent liability and overlapping causes of action for distinct wrongs suffered by the plaintiff in respect of the same incident."


1 [2007] UKHL 21.

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.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
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
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

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 or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq 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 of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions