Canada: Disclosure Of Financial Statements In Quebec Litigation: A Balancing Act

Lorsqu'une entreprise privée impliquée dans un litige est confrontée à une demande de communication de ses états financiers, la nature confidentielle de l'information ainsi que les problèmes pouvant découler de leur divulgation peuvent être une source d'inquiétude.

Face à une telle demande, les juges cherchent souvent à équilibrer les droits des parties afin de s'assurer qu'aucune d'elles ne subisse de préjudice ou ne bénéficie d'un avantage indu suite à la communication des documents.

Cet article analyse brièvement les mesures de protection ordonnées par la Cour supérieure du Québec dans Moose International Inc. c. Moose Knuckles Canada Inc. et leur impact sur l'équilibre des parties.

En l'espèce, les demandeurs allèguent que les défendeurs, dont l'un est un actionnaire minoritaire de la demanderesse Moose International Inc., se livrent à une concurrence déloyale à leur égard et violent leur marque de commerce. Dans deux jugements, la Cour supérieure ordonne deux séries de mesures de protection concernant la communication des états financiers de Moose International Inc. Les mesures de protection ordonnées par la Cour diffèrent selon que la demande de communication est faite par un actionnaire ou un non-actionnaire.

Demande de communication par un actionnaire

Dans le premier jugement (2017 QCCS 850), un actionnaire minoritaire demande l'accès aux livres et dossiers de la demanderesse Moose International Inc. en vertu de l'article 247 de la Loi canadienne sur les sociétés par actions, afin de pouvoir évaluer la valeur de ses actions dans la société et les vendre. Ce jugement tente d'équilibrer, d'une part, le droit statutaire du défendeur à l'accès aux états financiers en sa qualité d'actionnaire et, d'autre part, le droit de la demanderesse de ne pas subir de préjudice suite à la divulgation de ses états financiers.

Premièrement, la Cour statue que la demanderesse doit communiquer la convention unanime des actionnaires et les états financiers de la société à l'actionnaire minoritaire. Toutefois, le défendeur ne peut divulguer ces documents qu'à ses avocats, à un expert en évaluation d'entreprises ou à un éventuel acheteur de ses actions, sous réserve de la conclusion d'une entente de confidentialité avec l'évaluateur ou l'acheteur potentiel. De plus, l'actionnaire minoritaire est tenu d'utiliser les informations obtenues uniquement dans le but d'évaluer et de vendre ses actions.

En outre, à la demande de la Cour ou des demandeurs, l'actionnaire défendeur doit produire une liste de toutes les personnes ayant eu accès à la documentation ainsi que les accords de confidentialité qu'elles ont signés. Cependant, les demandeurs ne peuvent accéder à cette information qu'avec l'autorisation de la Cour.

Les mesures qui précèdent permettront à l'actionnaire de vendre ses actions sans ingérence de la part de la demanderesse, tout en préservant le caractère confidentiel des états financiers et de la convention unanime des actionnaires de Moose International Inc.

Il est intéressant de noter que l'avocat de l'actionnaire minoritaire a proposé la signature d'un accord de confidentialité prévoyant que l'actionnaire ne recevrait aucune copie des documents demandés, mais qu'il serait autorisé à consulter les documents et à prendre des notes. La Cour rejette cette solution, notant que l'entente proposée restreint trop les droits de l'actionnaire et qu'elle ne protège pas beaucoup mieux les intérêts de la demanderesse Moose International Inc.

Demande de communication par un non-actionnaire

L'autre jugement rendu le même jour (2017 QCCS 851) concerne une demande de communication des états financiers de Moose International Inc. par un défendeur non-actionnaire. La Cour statue que les documents doivent être communiqués aux avocats du défendeur ainsi qu'aux experts retenus. Toutefois, les documents ne peuvent être divulgués au défendeur non-actionnaire ou à ses représentants que sur autorisation expresse de la Cour.

En tant que non-actionnaire, ce défendeur ne bénéficie pas d'un droit statutaire d'accès aux états financiers de Moose International Inc. De plus, les demandeurs allèguent que ce défendeur se livre à une concurrence déloyale à leur égard. Devant cet état de fait, le juge impose des conditions plus sévères relativement à la communication des documents.

La règle implicite de confidentialité

Ces deux décisions de la Cour supérieure du Québec ont été confirmées par la Cour d'appel du Québec (2017 QCCA 358), qui a conclu que le juge avait raisonnablement équilibré les droits des parties impliquées.

La Cour d'appel rappelle également que la Cour suprême du Canada offre une mesure de protection supplémentaire dans Lac d'Amiante du Québec ltée. Dans cette affaire, la Cour suprême confirme que la règle implicite de confidentialité s'applique en droit québécois. Selon ce principe, les informations privées communiquées préalablement au procès ne doivent pas être utilisées à d'autres fins que le litige en cours, ni être divulguées à des tiers, à moins que le tribunal ne l'ait autorisé.

Cependant, cette règle à elle seule n'offre pas toujours une protection suffisante. Dans le cadre d'une autre affaire (2004 CanLII 73143), la Cour d'appel du Québec reconnaît la règle implicite de confidentialité, mais décide que l'environnement commercial très concurrentiel justifie des mesures de protection supplémentaires et ordonne aux parties de garder la documentation communiquée (en l'espèce, des documents contractuels) confidentielle.

Conclusion

Au final, les mesures de protection ordonnées dans l'affaire Moose International Inc. illustrent la recherche par les tribunaux d'un équilibre entre les droits des parties dans le contexte d'une demande de communication d'états financiers ou d'autres informations confidentielles. Cette affaire servira-t-elle d'inspiration pour d'autres juges? Il sera aussi intéressant de voir comment les tribunaux sanctionneront la violation d'une ordonnance imposant des mesures de protection semblables.

Écrit en collaboration avec Me Caroline Dunberry.

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.

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