Tag Archive for: Canada

Supreme Court of Canada on International Child Abduction

Written by Stephen G.A. Pitel, Faculty of Law, Western University

The Supreme Court of Canada has released its decision in F v N, 2022 SCC 51 (available here) and the decision offers some important observations about the law on international child abduction. The court held 5-4 that two young children taken by their mother from UAE to Ontario are to be returned to their father in UAE.

The father and mother were engaged in a dispute over custody rights of the children. The court noted that in the removal/return context, it was not deciding the custody issue but rather deciding which court – Ontario or UAE – would decide that issue [para 1]. Because UAE is not a party to the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, the issue of whether the children should be returned to UAE arose under Ontario legislation (Children’s Law Reform Act, RSO 1990, c C.12), though the court noted similarities between the two regimes [para 52].

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Revised Canadian Statute on Jurisdiction

Written by Stephen G.A. Pitel, Western University

Many Canadian and some other conflicts scholars will know that the Uniform Law Conference of Canada (ULCC) has drafted (in 1994) model legislation putting the taking of jurisdiction and staying of proceedings on a statutory footing. This statute, known as the Court Jurisdiction and Proceedings Transfer Act (CJPTA), has subsequently been adopted and brought into force in 4 of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories (British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Yukon).

The ULCC has now released a revised version of the CJPTA. It is available here and background information is available here.

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Ducking the Ricochet: The Supreme Court of Canada on Foreign Judgments

Written by Stephen G.A. Pitel, Western University

The court’s decision in HMB Holdings Ltd v Antigua and Barbuda, 2021 SCC 44 (available here) is interesting for at least two reasons. First, it adds to the understanding of the meaning of “carrying on business” as a test for being present in a jurisdiction. Second, it casts doubt on the application of statutory registration schemes for foreign judgments to judgments that themselves recognize a foreign judgment (the so-called ricochet).

In this litigation HMB obtained a Privy Council judgment and then sued to enforce it in British Columbia. Antigua did not defend and so HMB obtained a default judgment. HMB then sought to register the British Columbia judgment in Ontario under Ontario’s statutory scheme for the registration of judgments (known as REJA). An important threshold issue was whether the statutory scheme applied to judgments like the British Columbia one (a recognition judgment). In part this is a matter of statutory interpretation but in part it requires thinking through the aim and objectives of the scheme.

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Enforcement of Foreign Judgments about Forum Land

By Stephen G.A. Pitel, Western University

In common law Canada, it has long been established that a court will not recognize and enforce a foreign judgment concerning title to land in the forum.  The key case in support is Duke v Andler, [1932] SCR 734.

The ongoing application of that decision has now been called into question by the British Columbia Court of Appeal in Lanfer v Eilers, 2021 BCCA 241 (available here).  In the court below the judge relied on Duke and refused recognition and enforcement of a German decision that determined the ownership of land in British Columbia.  The Court of Appeal reversed and gave effect to the German decision.  This represents a significant change to Canadian law in this area.

The Court of Appeal, of course, cannot overturn a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada.  It reached its result by deciding that a more recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, that in Pro Swing Inc v Elta Golf Inc, 2006 SCC 52, had overtaken the reasoning and result in Duke and left the Court of Appeal free to recognize and enforce the German decision (see paras 44-45 and 74).  This is controversial.  It has been questioned whether Pro Swing had the effect of superseding Duke but there are arguments on both sides.  In part this is because Pro Swing was a decision about whether to recognize and enforce foreign non-monetary orders, but the orders in that case had nothing to do with specific performance mandating a transfer or title to land in the forum.

I find it hard to accept the decision as a matter of precedent.  The title to land aspect of the foreign decision seems a significantly different element than what is at issue in most non-monetary judgment decisions, such that it is hard to simply subsume this within Pro Swing.  What is really necessary is detailed analysis of whether the historic rule should or should not be changed at a normative level.  How open should courts be to recognizing and enforcing foreign judgments concerning title to land in the forum?  This raises related issues, most fundamentally whether the Mocambique rule itself should change.  If other courts now know that British Columbia is prepared to enforce foreign orders about land in that province, why should foreign courts restrain their jurisdiction in cases concerning such land?

In this litigation, the defendant is a German resident and by all accounts is clearly in violation of the German court’s order requiring a transfer of the land in British Columbia (see para 1).  Why the plaintiff could not or did not have the German courts directly enforce their own order against the defendant’s person or property is not clear in the decision.  Indeed, it may be that the German courts only were prepared to make the order about foreign land precisely because they had the power to enforce the order in personam and that it thus did not require enforcement in British Columbia (analogous to the Penn v Baltimore exception to Mocambique).

Given the conflict with Duke, there is a reasonable likelihood that the Supreme Court of Canada would grant leave to appeal if it is sought.  And if not, a denial of leave would be a relatively strong signal of support for the Court of Appeal’s decision.  But the issue will be less clear if no appeal is sought, leaving debate about the extent to which the law has changed.


Canada’s Top Court to Hear Enforcement Dispute

By Stephen G.A. Pitel, Western University

The Supreme Court of Canada has granted leave in H.M.B. Holdings Limited v Attorney General of Antigua and Barbuda.  Information about the appeal is available here. The decision being appealed, rendered by the Court of Appeal for Ontario, is available here.  In the usual course the appeal will be heard in the late spring or early fall of 2021.  The grant of leave is notable because Canada’s top court only hears a small handful of conflict of laws cases in any given year.

In 2014 the Privy Council rendered a judgment in favour of HMB against Antigua and Barbuda for over US$35 million including interest.  In 2016 HMB sued at common law to have the Privy Council judgment recognized and enforced in British Columbia.  Antigua and Barbuda did not defend and default judgment was granted in 2017.  HMB then sought to register the British Columbia decision (not the Privy Council decision) under Ontario’s statutory scheme for the registration of judgments of other Canadian common law provinces.  This required the Ontario courts to engage in a process of statutory interpretation, with one of the central issues being whether the scheme applied to the recognition and enforcement judgment or only to what have been called “original judgments”.

The procedure used by HMB for getting the Privy Council decision enforced in Ontario might seem odd.  The Ontario application judge referred to the process as involving a “ricochet judgment”.  As to why HMB did not bring a common law action on the Privy Council judgment in Ontario, as it had done in British Columbia, there appears to be some issue that such an action could be outside the applicable limitation period.  British Columbia (10 years) has a longer limitation period than Ontario (2 years) for common law actions to enforce foreign judgments.

The Ontario courts held that the scheme did not apply to the British Columbia judgment or, in the alternative, if it did, Antigua and Barbuda were entitled to resist the registration on the basis that it was not “carrying on business” in British Columbia (which is a defence to registration under the Ontario scheme).  The majority of the Court of Appeal for Ontario, perhaps proceeding in an inverted analytical order, held that because Antigua and Barbuda was not carrying on business in British Columbia it did not need to address the (more fundamental) issue of the scope of the scheme.  The dissenting judge held Antigua and Barbuda was carrying on business in British Columbia and so did address the scope of the scheme, finding it did apply to a recognition and enforcement judgment.

In my view, it is unfortunate that all of the Ontario judges focused quite particularly on the language of various provisions of the statutory scheme without greater consideration of the underlying policy question of whether the scheme, as a whole, truly was meant to allow knock-on or ricochet enforcement.  Ontario’s scheme is explicitly limited to allowing registration of judgments of other Canadian common law provinces.  It strikes me as fundamentally wrong to interpret this as covering all foreign judgments those other provinces themselves choose to enforce.  Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see whether the Supreme Court of Canada resolves the appeal solely on the basis of the intended scope of the registration scheme or instead devotes significant attention to addressing the meaning of “carrying on business”.

Uber Arbitration Clause Unconscionable

In 2017 drivers working under contract for Uber in Ontario launched a class action.  They alleged that under Ontario law they were employees entitled to various benefits Uber was not providing.  In response, Uber sought to stay the proceedings on the basis of an arbitration clause in the standard-form contract with each driver.  Under its terms a driver is required to resolve any dispute with Uber through mediation and arbitration in the Netherlands.  The mediation and arbitration process requires up-front administrative and filing fees of US$14,500.  In response, the drivers argued that the arbitration clause was unenforceable.

The Supreme Court of Canada has held in Uber Technologies Inc. v. Heller, 2020 SCC 16 that the arbitration clause is unenforceable, paving the way for the class action to proceed in Ontario.  A majority of seven judges held the clause was unconscionable.  One judge held that unconscionability was not the proper framework for analysis but that the clause was contrary to public policy.  One judge, in dissent, upheld the clause.

A threshold dispute was whether the motion to stay the proceedings was under the Arbitration Act, 1991, S.O. 1991, c. 17 or the International Commercial Arbitration Act, 2017, S.O. 2017, c. 2, Sch. 5.  Eight judges held that as the dispute was fundamentally about labour and employment, the ICAA did not apply and the AA was the relevant statute (see paras. 18-28, 104).  While s. 7(1) of the AA directs the court to stay proceedings in the face of an agreement to arbitration, s. 7(2) is an exception that applies, inter alia, if the arbitration agreement is “invalid”.  That was accordingly the framework for the analysis.  In dissent Justice Cote held that the ICAA was the applicable statute as the relationship was international and commercial in nature (paras. 210-18).

The majority (a decision written by Abella and Rowe JJ) offered two reasons for not leaving the issue of the validity of the clause to the arbitrator.  First, although the issue involved a mixed question of law and fact, the question could be resolved by the court on only a “superficial review” of the record (para. 37).  Second, the court was required to consider “whether there is a real prospect, in the circumstances, that the arbitrator may never decide the merits of the jurisdictional challenge” (para. 45).  If so, the court is to decide the issue.  This is rooted in concerns about access to justice (para. 38).  In the majority’s view, the high fees required to commence the arbitration are a “brick wall” on any pathway to resolution of the drivers’ claims.

The majority then engaged in a detailed discussion of the doctrine of unconscionability.  It requires both “an inequality of bargaining power and a resulting improvident bargain” (para. 65).  On the former, the majority noted the standard form, take-it-or-leave-it nature of the contract and the “significant gulf in sophistication” between the parties (para. 93).  On the latter, the majority stressed the high up-front costs and apparent necessity to travel to the Netherlands to raise any dispute (para. 94).  In its view, “No reasonable person who had understood and appreciated the implications of the arbitration clause would have agreed to it” (para. 95).  As a result, the clause is unconscionable and thus invalid.

Justice Brown instead relied on the public policy of favouring access to justice and precluding an ouster of the jurisdiction of the court.  An arbitration clause that has the practical effect of precluding arbitration cannot be accepted (para. 119).  Contractual stipulations that prohibit the resolution of disputes according to law, whether by express prohibition or simply by effect, are unenforceable as a matter of public policy (para. 121).

Justice Brown also set out at length his concerns about the majority’s reliance on unconscionability: “the doctrine of unconscionability is ill-suited here.  Further, their approach is likely to introduce added uncertainty in the enforcement of contracts, where predictability is paramount” (para. 147).  Indeed, he criticized the majority for significantly lowering the hurdle for unconscionability, suggesting that every standard-form contract would, on the majority’s view, meet the first element of an inequality of bargaining power and therefore open up an inquiry into the sufficiency of the bargain (paras. 162-63).  Justice Brown concluded that “my colleagues’ approach drastically expands the scope of unconscionability, provides very little guidance for the doctrine’s application, and does all of this in the context of an appeal whose just disposition requires no such change” (para. 174).

In dissent, Justice Cote was critical of the other judges’ willingness, in the circumstances, to resolve the issue rather than refer it to the arbitrator for decision: “In my view, my colleagues’ efforts to avoid the operation of the rule of systematic referral to arbitration reflects the same historical hostility to arbitration which the legislature and this Court have sought to dispel. The simple fact is that the parties in this case have agreed to settle any disputes through arbitration; this Court should not hesitate to give effect to that arrangement. The ease with which my colleagues dispense with the Arbitration Clause on the basis of the thinnest of factual records causes me to fear that the doctrines of unconscionability and public policy are being converted into a form of ad hoc judicial moralism or “palm tree justice” that will sow uncertainty and invite endless litigation over the enforceability of arbitration agreements” (para. 237).  Justice Cote also shared many of Justice Brown’s concerns about the majority’s use of unconscionability: “I am concerned that their threshold for a finding of inequality of bargaining power has been set so low as to be practically meaningless in the case of standard form contracts” (para. 257).

The decision is lengthy and several additional issues are canvassed, especially in the reasons of Justice Cote and Justice Brown.  The ultimate result, with the drivers not being bound by the arbitration clause, is not that surprising.  Perhaps the most significant questions moving forward will be the effect these reasons have on the doctrine of unconscionability more generally.

Jurisdiction to Garnish Funds in Foreign Bank Account

By Stephen G.A. Pitel, Faculty of Law, Western University

Instrubel, N.V., a Dutch corporation, has been attempting in litigation in Quebec to garnish assets of the Republic of Iraq.  The difficult issue has been the nature of the assets sought to be garnished and where they are, as a matter of law, located.  The assets are funds in a bank account in Switzerland payable to the Republic of Iraq (through the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority) by IATA, a Montreal-based trade association.

The judge at first instance held the assets were not a debt obligation but in effect the property of the Republic of Iraq and located in Switzerland and so could not be subject to garnishment in Quebec proceedings.  The Court of Appeal reversed, holding the assets were a debt due to the Republic of Iraq which it could enforce against the trade association at its head office in Quebec, so that the debt was located in Quebec under the basic rule for locating the situs of a debt.

Last December the Supreme Court of Canada denied the appeal for the reasons of the Quebec Court of Appeal.  One judge, Justice Cote, dissented with reasons to follow.  On May 1, 2020, she released those reasons: see International Air Transport Association v. Instrubel, N.V., 2019 SCC 61 (available here).

As a Quebec case, the decision is based on the civil law.  Justice Cote’s dissent hinges on the view that the funds in the account are the property of the Republic of Iraq, not the IATA, and are merely being held by the latter before being remitted to the former (see para. 36).  The funds are not part of the “patrimony” of the IATA.  This is because the nature of the agreement between the Republic of Iraq and the IATA is one of “mandate” (see paras. 40-41 and 45).  As Justice Cote notes (at para. 48) “there is a general principle in the law of mandate that a mandatary’s obligation towards a mandator is not a debt”.  While the payments that went into the bank account were collected and held by the IATA, they were made to the Republic of Iraq (para. 53).  Indeed, the account “is for practical purposes equivalent to a trust account” (para. 61).

As noted, the six judges in the majority simply adopted the reasons of the Quebec Court of Appeal (available here).  So they did not directly engage with Justice Cote’s reasons.  The Court of Appeal concluded (at para. 41) that “there is no ownership of or real right to the funds … Rather, there is a creditor/debtor relationship”.  It also observed that the Republic of Iraq “never owned the debts due it by various airlines in consideration of landing at Iraqi airports.  It does not now own the funds collected in satisfaction of those debts and deposited by IATA in its bank account.  IATA’s obligation is to pay a sum of money not to give the dollar bills received from third parties” (para. 43).

The Court of Appeal noted (at para. 50) a practical rationale for its conclusion: “More significantly it seems that [Instrubel, N.V.] and others in similar positions which seek to execute an unsatisfied claim would be forced into an international “shell game” of somehow discovering (or guessing) where the mandatary/garnishee (IATA), deposited the money – a virtually impossible task.  The law, correctly applied, should not lead, in my view, to such unworkable results.  As the in personam debtor of ICAA, it matters not whether IATA deposited the money it collected and giving rise to such indebtedness in a bank account in Geneva, New York or Montreal.  The situs of its bank account does not change the situs of the debt IATA owes to its creditor.  As such, that funds were initially collected in Montreal or at an IATA branch office in another country is inconsequential.”

The case is at minimum important for what it does not do, which is authorize the garnishing of assets outside Quebec.  All judges take the position that would be impermissible.

Indigenous Claims to Foreign Land: Update from Canada

By Stephen G.A. Pitel, Faculty of Law, Western University

In 2013 two Innu First Nations sued, in the Superior Court of Quebec, two mining companies responsible for a mega-project consisting of multiple open-pit mines near Schefferville, Quebec and Labrador City, Newfoundland and Labrador. The Innu asserted a right to the exclusive use and occupation of the lands affected by the mega-project. They claimed to have occupied, since time immemorial, a traditional territory that straddles the border between the provinces of Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.  They claimed a constitutional right to the land under s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

The mining companies and the Attorney General of Newfoundland and Labrador each moved to strike from the Innu’s pleading portions of the claim which, in their view, concerned real rights over property situated in Newfoundland and Labrador and, therefore, fell under the jurisdiction of the courts of that province.

In Newfoundland and Labrador (Attorney General) v Uashaunnuat (Innu of Uashat and of Mani-Utenam), 2020 SCC 4, the Supreme Court of Canada held (by 5-4 majority) that the motion to strike failed and that the Quebec court had jurisdiction over the entire claim advanced by the Innu.

Quebec’s private international law is contained in Book Ten of the Civil Code of Quebec. Jurisdiction over the mining companies was based on their being domiciled in Quebec. However, as a special rule of jurisdiction, Division III governs what are called real and mixed actions (para. 18). The general rule is that Quebec has jurisdiction to hear a real action only if the property in dispute is situated in Quebec (art. 3152). In the case of a mixed action, Quebec must have jurisdiction over both the personal and real aspects of the matter: see CGAO v Groupe Anderson Inc., 2017 QCCA 923 at para. 10 (para. 57). These rules required the court to properly characterize the Innu’s action.

The majority held that the claim was a mixed action (para. 56). This was because the Innu sought both the recognition of a sui generis right (a declaration of Aboriginal title) and the performance of various obligations related to failures to respect that right. However, the claim was not a “classical” mixed action, which would require the court to have jurisdiction over both the personal and real aspects of the matter. Rather, this was a “non-classical” mixed action that involved the recognition of sui generis rights and the performance of obligations (para. 57).  Put another way, the nature of the indigenous land claims made them different from traditional claims to land. Accordingly, the claim did not fall within the special jurisdiction provisions in Division III and jurisdiction could simply be based on the defendants’ Quebec domicile.

The majority was influenced by access to justice considerations, being concerned about requiring the Innu to litigate in both Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador. It noted that “[t]he Innu have argued that separating their claim along provincial borders will result in higher — perhaps prohibitive — costs caused by “piecemeal” advocacy, and inconsistent holdings that will require further resolution in the courts. … These are compelling access to justice considerations, especially when they are coupled with the pre-existing nature of Aboriginal rights” (paras. 46-47).

The dissenting reasons are lengthy (quite a bit longer than those of the majority). Critically, it held that “Aboriginal title and other Aboriginal or treaty rights are “real rights” for the purposes of private international law, which is to say that they resemble or are at least analogous to the domestic institution of real rights” (emphasis in original) (para. 140). Labeling them as sui generis was not sufficient to avoid the jurisdictional requirement for a mixed action that the land had to be in Quebec: “the fact that Aboriginal title is sui generis in nature does not mean that it cannot be a proprietary interest or a real right strictly for the purposes of private international law” (para. 155).

In the view of the dissent, ” if Quebec authorities were to rule directly on the title that the Innu believe they hold to the parts of Nitassinan that are situated outside Quebec, the declarations would be binding on no one, not even on the defendants … , precisely because Quebec authorities lack jurisdiction in this regard” (emphasis in original) (para. 189).

On the issue of access to justice, the dissent stated that “access to justice must be furnished within the confines of our constitutional order. Delivery of efficient, timely and cost-effective resolution of transboundary Aboriginal rights claims must occur within the structure of the Canadian legal system as a whole. But this is not to suggest that principles of federalism and provincial sovereignty preclude development by superior courts, in the exercise of their inherent jurisdiction, of innovative yet constitutionally sound solutions that promote access to justice” (emphasis in original) (para. 217). It went on to proffer the interesting procedural option that both a Quebec judge and a Newfoundland and Labrador judge could sit in the same courtroom at the same time, so that the proceedings were heard by both courts without duplication (para. 222).

There are many other issues in the tension between the majority and the dissent, including the role of Newfoundland and Labrador as a party to the dispute. It was not sued by the Innu and became involved as a voluntary intervenor (para. 9).

The decision is very much rooted in the private international law of Quebec but it has implications for any Indigenous claims affecting land in any legal system. Those systems would also need to determine whether their courts had jurisdiction to hear such claims in respect of land outside their territory. Indeed, the decision offers a basis to speculate as to how the courts would handle an Indigenous land claim brought in British Columbia in respect of land that straddled the border with the state of Washington. Is the court’s decision limited to cases that cross only internal federation borders or does it extend to the international realm? And does there have to be a straddling of the border at all, or could a court hear such a claim entirely in respect of land in another jurisdiction? The court’s decision leaves much open to interesting debate.

Claims Against Corporate Defendant Founded on Customary International Law Can Proceed in Canada

By Stephen G.A. Pitel, Faculty of Law, Western University

Eritrean mine workers who fled from that country to British Columbia sued the mine’s owner, Nevsun Resources Ltd. They sought damages for various torts including battery, false imprisonment and negligence. They also sought damages for breaches of customary international law. Their core allegation was that as conscripted labourers in Eritrea’s National Service Program, they were forced to work in the mine in intolerable conditions and Nevsun was actively involved in this arrangement.

Nevsun moved to strike out all of the claims on the basis of the act of state doctrine. It also moved to strike out the proceedings based on violations of customary international law because they were bound to fail as a matter of law.

In its decision in Nevsun Resources Ltd v Araya, 2020 SCC 5, the Supreme Court of Canada has held (by a 7-2 decision) that the act of state doctrine is not part of Canadian law (para. 59) and so does not preclude any of the claims. It has also held (by a 5-4 decision) that the claims based on customary international law are not bound to fail (para. 132) and so can proceed.

Act of State Doctrine

Justice Abella, writing for five of the court’s nine judges, noted that the act of state doctrine had been heavily criticized in England and Australia and had played no role in Canadian law (para 28). Instead, the principles that underlie the doctrine were subsumed within the jurisprudence on “conflict of laws and judicial restraint” (para 44).

In dissent, Justice Cote, joined by Justice Moldaver, held that the act of state doctrine is not subsumed by choice of law and judicial restraint jurisprudence (para. 275). It is part of Canadian law. She applied the doctrine of justiciability to the claims, finding them not justiciable because they require the determination that the state of Eritrea has committed an internationally wrongful act (para. 273).

This division raises some concerns about nomenclature. How different is “judicial restraint” from “non-justiciability”? Is justiciability an aspect of an act of state doctrine or is it a more general doctrine (see para. 276)? Put differently, it appears that the same considerations could be deployed by the court either under an act of state doctrine or without one.

The real division on this point is that Justice Cote concluded that the court “should not entertain a claim, even one between private parties, if a central issue is whether a foreign state has violated its obligations under international law” (para. 286). She noted that the cases Justice Abella relied on in which Canadian courts have examined and criticized the acts of foreign states are ones in which that analysis was required to ensure that Canada comply with its own obligations as a state (para. 304). In contrast, in this case no conduct by Canada is being called into question.

In Justice Abella’s view, a Canadian court can indeed end up determining, as part of a private civil dispute, that Eritrea has engaged in human rights violations. She did not, however, respond to Justice Cote’s point that her authorities were primarily if not all drawn from the extradition and deportation contexts, both involving conduct by Canada as a state. She did not squarely explain why the issue of Eritrea’s conduct was justiciable or not covered by judicial restraint in this particular case. Having held that the act of state doctrine was not part of Canadian law appears to have been sufficient to resolve the issue (para. 59).

Claims Based on Violations of Customary International Law

The more significant split relates to the claims based on violations of customary international law. The majority concluded that under the “doctrine of adoption”, peremptory norms of customary international law are automatically adopted into Canadian domestic law (para. 86). So Canadian law precludes forced labour, slavery and crimes against humanity (paras. 100-102). Beyond that conclusion, the majority fell back on the hurdle for striking out claims, namely that they have to be bound (“plain and obvious”) to fail. If they have a prospect of success, they should not be struck out. The majority found it an open question whether these peremptory norms bind corporations (para. 113) and can lead to a common law remedy of damages in a civil proceeding (para. 122). As a result the claims were allowed to proceed.

Four of the judges dissented on this point, in reasons written by Brown and Rowe JJ and supported by Cote and Moldaver JJ. These judges were critical of the majority’s failure to actually decide the legal questions raised by the case, instead leaving them to a subsequent trial (paras. 145-147). In their view, the majority’s approach “will encourage parties to draft pleadings in a vague and underspecified manner” which is “likely not to facilitate access to justice, but to frustrate it” (para. 261). The dissent was prepared to decide the legal questions and held that the claims based on violations of customary international law could not succeed (para. 148).

In the dissent’s view, the adoption into Canadian law of rules prohibiting slavery, forced labour and crimes against humanity did not equate to mandating that victims have a civil claim for damages in response to such conduct (para. 172). The prohibitions, in themselves, simply did not include such a remedy (para. 153). The right to a remedy, the dissent pointed out, “does not necessarily mean a right to a particular form, or kind of remedy” (para. 214).

Further, as to whether these rules can be directly enforced against corporations, the dissent was critical of the complete lack of support for the majority’s position: “[i]t cites no cases where a corporation has been held civilly liable for breaches of customary international law anywhere in the world” (para. 188). As Justice Cote added, the “widespread, representative and consistent state practice and opinio juris required to establish a customary rule do not presently exist to support the proposition that international human rights norms have horizontal application between individuals and corporations” (para. 269).

On this issue, one might wonder how much of a victory the plaintiffs have achieved. While the claims can now go forward, only a very brave trial judge would hold that a corporation can be sued for a violation of customary international law given the comments of the dissenting judges as to the lack of support for that position. As Justices Brown and Rowe put it, the sole authority relied on by the majority “is a single law review essay” (para. 188). Slender foundations indeed.

Staying Proceedings under the Civil Code of Quebec

Written by Professor Stephen G.A. Pitel, Western University

The decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in R.S. v P.R., 2019 SCC 49 (available here) could be of interest to those who work with codified provisions on staying proceedings. It involves interpreting the language of several such provisions in the Civil Code of Quebec. Art. 3135 is the general provision for a stay of proceedings, but on its wording and as interpreted by the courts it is “exceptional” and so the hurdle for a stay is high. In contrast, Art. 3137 is a specific provision for a stay of proceedings based on lis pendens (proceedings underway elsewhere) and if it applies it does not have the same exceptional nature. This decision concerns Art. 3137 and how it should be interpreted. Read more