Canada: Have A Contract In Canada? Your Class Action Risk Is Greater Than You May Think

Last Updated: July 22 2016
Article by Gannon Beaulne, Michael A. Eizenga and Ranjan K. Agarwal

Non-Canadian companies: welcome to the Canadian class action party. In recent years, Canadians have increasingly begun to recognize and actively manage the major business risk posed by class actions, as more and more businesses have found themselves facing class actions in Canadian jurisdictions. But that growing risk does not stop at the Canadian border. Companies that do business in Canada—or even that simply have a contract formed in Canada or some other Canadian connection—should know that they can now be dragged into a Canadian class action in circumstances that might surprise them.

Traditionally, courts could assert jurisdiction over foreign defendants only if they were present in or had consented to the relevant jurisdiction. In a sharp break from the traditional rules, Canadian courts have come to recognize a third basis for asserting jurisdiction where there is a "real and substantial connection" between a dispute and the province the courts of which are asked to take jurisdiction over the dispute. Much judicial ink has been spilled over what kinds of connections qualify as real and substantial ones.

In 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada brought some clarity to the area. In Van Breda v Village Resorts Ltd, it held that at least one factor must connect the legal situation or subject matter of the litigation to the province. The Supreme Court identified four non-exhaustive factors that are presumed to establish a real and substantial connection: (i) the defendant is domiciled or resident in the province; (ii) the defendant carries on business in the province; (iii) a tort was committed in the province; and (iv) a contract connected with the dispute was made in the province. If one of these "presumptive connecting factors" is established, the onus shifts to the defendant to establish facts that demonstrate that the presumptive connecting factor does not point to any real relationship between the dispute and the province.

In some ways, the Supreme Court's discussion of presumptive connecting factors in Van Breda raised more questions than it offered answers. For example, what does it mean for a contract made in a province to be "connected" with a dispute under the fourth presumptive connecting factor in Van Breda? At first glance, that factor seems to be almost circular: a dispute will be connected with a Canadian province if there is a contract in the province that is connected to the dispute. Clear as mud. What kind of connection is needed?

On June 15, 2016, the Supreme Court considered the boundaries of that fourth presumptive connecting factor, in the class action context, in Lapointe Rosenstein Marchand Melançon LLP v Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP. That case, which was started in Ontario, related to the fallout from the Canadian Government's decision to bail out General Motors of Canada Ltd. in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. As part of the bailout, GM was required to close dealerships across Canada, so it entered into Wind-Down Agreements with more than 200 dealers. A proposed class action was commenced on behalf of the dealers against the law firm Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP for allegedly failing to provide appropriate legal advice to the dealers in connection with the Wind-Down Agreements.

Cassels Brock added 150 law firms, which are based across Canada and provided independent legal advice to the dealers, as third-party defendants. Those firms (especially 32 firms based in Québec) challenged the jurisdiction of Ontario's courts and denied that any real and substantial connection between the third-party claims and Ontario existed. Cassels Brock responded that the fourth presumptive connecting factor from Van Breda was engaged: contracts connected with the dispute (the Wind-Down Agreements) had been made in Ontario.

The Supreme Court agreed with Cassels Brock. For a seven-judge majority, Justice Abella wrote that "all that is required is a connection between the claim and a contract that was made in the province where jurisdiction is sought to be assumed". She did not accept that the third-party law firms had to be parties to the contracts. Nor did she accept that the alleged liability had to flow from their contractual obligations. In her view, such restrictive glosses on the fourth presumptive connecting factor would "unduly narrow the scope of Van Breda" and undermine "the flexibility required in private international law".

In the GM case, the Wind-Down Agreements were enough to bring the third-party claims within the scope of the fourth presumptive connecting factor. Law firms from across Canada could thus be properly included in the Ontario class action. The flexible approach to jurisdiction expressed by Justice Abella is likely to compound existing case law that expands the ways in which non-Canadian companies can be dragged into Canadian class actions. Courts had already indicated, for example, an increasing willingness to accept that a foreign company carries on business in Canada through its Internet activities or the activities of a local subsidiary or related company, leading to potentially surprising assertions of jurisdiction.

The GM case thus contains a hidden warning to non-Canadian companies: if you have a contract in Canada—or even if your conduct could merely bring you within the penumbra of a Canadian contractual relationship—you would do well to consider your Canadian class action risk profile. Companies that ignore the trend toward "flexibility" in private international law in Canada may be facing more class action risk than they think.

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 Mondaq.com.

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

Authors
Gannon Beaulne
Ranjan K. Agarwal
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
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
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
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

Mondaq.com (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 www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com 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.

Disclaimer

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.

General

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