Tag Archive for: conflict of laws

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.

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

What Does it Mean to Submit to a Foreign Forum?

The meaning of submission was the central question, though by no means the only one, in the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Barer v Knight Brothers LLC, 2019 SCC 13 (available here).  Knight sought enforcement of a Utah default judgment against Barer in Quebec.  The issue was governed by Quebec’s law on the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments, which is set out in various provisions of the Civil Code of Quebec (so much statutory interpretation analysis ensued).  Aspects of the decision may be of interest to those in other countries that have similar provisions in their own codes.

The court held that the Utah decision was enforceable in Quebec.  Seven judges (Gascon J writing the majority decision) held that Barer had submitted to the Utah court’s jurisdiction.  Two judges held that he had not.  One of them (Brown J) held that the Utah court had jurisdiction on another basis, and so concurred in the result, while the other (Cote J) held it did not, and so dissented.

The majority held that in his efforts to challenge the Utah’s court’s jurisdiction, Barer had presented substantive arguments going to the merits of the dispute (para 6).  It analysed various possible steps in a foreign proceeding that either would or would not constitute submission (paras 59-63).  It was invited by Barer to consider the “save your skin” approach to submission, which would recognize that a defendant who both challenged jurisdiction and raised substantive arguments would not be taken to have submitted.  It rejected that approach (para 68).  Its core concern was to protect “the plaintiff’s legitimate interest in knowing at some point in the proceedings, whether or not the defendant has submitted to the jurisdiction” (para 62).  It added that “plaintiffs who invest time and resources in judicial proceedings in a jurisdiction are entitled to some certainty regarding whether or not the defendants have submitted to the court’s jurisdiction” (para 67).

The majority acknowledged that in a case in which the process of the foreign forum required the raising of a substantive argument alongside a jurisdictional challenge, this could affect the determination of whether the defendant had submitted (para 75).  But this was not such a case: the defendant had not established, as a factual matter, that this was such a feature of the Utah procedure (paras 75 and 78).  Accordingly, the fact that Barer had raised a defence on the merits – that a pure economic loss rule barred the claim against him – amounted to submission (para 71).

In dissent, Justice Cote finds the majority’s test for submission to be “too strict” (para 212).  She urged a “more flexible approach” which would allow a defendant to raise substantive arguments alongside a jurisdictional challenge (para 213).  In her view, if “a broad range of arguments may convince a Utah court that it lacks jurisdiction over a matter … A defendant must be allowed to present those arguments” (para 219).  While Gascon J put the onus of showing that the Utah process required raising substantive arguments at a particular time on the defendant, Cote J put that onus on the plaintiff, the party seeking to enforce the foreign judgment (para 223).

Brown J’s concurring decision did not comment at any length on the test for submission.  He held that “I agree with my colleague Cote J. that Mr. Barer has not submitted to the jurisdiction of the Utah court merely by presenting one argument pertaining to the merits of the action in his Motion to Dismiss” (para 146; emphasis in original).  This is consistent with Cote J’s approach to the meaning of submission.

There is a further interesting dimension to the reasons.  Cote J held, in the alternative, that even if Barer had submitted, the plaintiff also had to show a real and substantial connection between the dispute and Utah before the judgment could be enforced (para 234).  This engaged her in a complex argument about the scheme and wording of the Civil Code.  Having identified this additional legal requirement, she held this was a case in which the submission itself (if established) was not a sufficiently strong connection to Utah and so the decision should nonetheless not be enforced (para 268).  In contrast, Brown J held that there was no separate requirement to show such a connection to Utah (paras 135 and 141-42).  Showing the submission was all that was required.  The majority refused to resolve this interpretive dispute (para 88), holding only that on the facts of this case Barer’s submission “clearly establishes a substantial connection between the dispute and the Utah court” (para 88).

The judges disagreed about several other aspects of the case.  Put briefly and at the risk of oversimplification, Brown J relied primarily on the notion that all parties and aspects of the dispute should have been before the Utah court.  Barer was sufficiently connected with various aspects of the dispute, over which Utah clearly did have jurisdiction, that its jurisdiction over him was proper (see paras 99, 154 and 161-62).  Neither Cote J nor Gascon J agreed with that approach.  There are also disputes about what types of evidence are proper for establishing the requirements for recognition and enforcement and what law applies to various aspects of the analysis.

In a small tangent, the majority decision criticized the “presumption of similarity” doctrine for cases in which the content of foreign law is not properly proven and it offered a more modern explanation of why forum law is applied in such cases (para 76).

Ontario Court Holds Law of Bangladesh Applies to Rana Plaza Collapse Claim

The Court of Appeal for Ontario has upheld a decision of the Superior Court of Justice dismissing a $2 billion claim against Loblaws relating to the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Savar, Bangladesh.  In Das v George Weston Limited, 2018 ONCA 1053 (available here) the court concluded that the claims were governed by the law of Bangladesh (not Ontario).  It went on to conclude that most of the claims were statute barred under the Bangladeshi limitation period and that it was “plain and obvious” that the remaining claims would fail under Bangladeshi tort law.

Unlike some of the recent cases in this area, this was not a case about a Canadian parent corporation and the operations of its own foreign subsidiary.  It was a case about a contractual supply relationship.  Loblaws bought clothes (to sell in its Canadian retail stores) from corporations whose workers manufactured the clothes in Rana Plaza.

The key conflict of laws point was the choice of law issue.  The rule in Ontario is that tort claims are governed by the law of the place of the tort: Tolofson v Jensen, [1994] 3 SCR 1022.  The plaintiffs had argued that they were suing Loblaws for negligent conduct that exposed those working in Rana Plaza to harm.  They argued that Loblaws had, by adopting corporate social responsibility policies and hiring Bureau Veritas to conduct periodic “social audits” of the workplace, assumed a degree of responsibility for the safety of the workplace in Bangladesh (para 20).  They argued that the key steps and decisions by Loblaws took place in Ontario rather than in Bangladesh and therefore Ontario was the place of the tort (para 80).  The court rejected these arguments.  It held that the place where the alleged wrongful activity occurred was Bangladesh (para 85), that the alleged duty was owed to people in Bangladesh (para 87) and that the injury suffered in Bangladesh “crystallized the alleged wrong” (para 90).

The court also refused to apply Tolofson‘s narrow exception to the place of the tort rule.  One reason the plaintiffs raised for triggering the exception was the lack of punitive damages under the law of Bangladesh.  The court noted that the lower court’s decision had suggested such damages might actually be available under that law, but in any case “the absence of the availability of punitive damages is not the type of issue that offends Canadian fundamental values” (para 95).  The court raised no basis on which to disagree with this analysis.

Because the applicable law was that of Bangladesh, and because some of the claims were not statute-barred, the court was required to do a detailed analysis of Bangladeshi tort law on the duty of care issue in order to determine whether those claims were to be dismissed as not viable.  This aspect of the decision may be the most disquieting, since there was little if any on-point authority in the Bangladeshi jurisprudence (para 130).  The court had to rely on experts who were relying on a considerable volume of Indian and English cases and then debating the extent to which these would impact the issue if determined by a Bangladeshi court.  Ultimately the court concluded that under Bangladeshi law the claims could not succeed.

New Book: Nineteenth-Century Perspectives on Private International Law

Roxana Banu of Western University has published Nineteenth-Century Perspectives on Private International Law, a new book in the Oxford University Press series on the history and theory of international law.  Information from the publisher can be found here.  From the website:

Private International Law is often criticized for failing to curb private power in the transnational realm. The field appears disinterested or powerless in addressing global economic and social inequality. Scholars have frequently blamed this failure on the separation between private and public international law at the end of the nineteenth century and on private international law’s increasing alignment with private law.

Through a contextual historical analysis, Roxana Banu questions these premises. By reviewing a broad range of scholarship from six jurisdictions (the United States, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, and the Netherlands) she shows that far from injecting an impetus for social justice, the alignment between private and public international law introduced much of private international law’s formalism and neutrality. She also uncovers various nineteenth century private law theories that portrayed a social, relationally constituted image of the transnational agent, thus contesting both individualistic and state-centric premises for regulating cross-border inter-personal relations.

Overall, this study argues that the inherited shortcomings of contemporary private international law stem more from the incorporation of nineteenth century theories of sovereignty and state rights than from theoretical premises of private law. In turn, by reconsidering the relational premises of the nineteenth century private law perspectives discussed in this book, Banu contends that private international law could take centre stage in efforts to increase social and economic equality by fostering individual agency and social responsibility in the transnational realm.

Double Counting the Place of the Tort?

In common law Canada there is a clear separation between the question of a court having jurisdiction (jurisdiction simpliciter) and the question of a court choosing whether to exercise or stay its jurisdiction.  One issue discussed in the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision in Haaretz.com v Goldhar (available here) is the extent of that separation.  Does this separation mean that a particular fact cannot be used in both the analysis of jurisdiction and of forum non conveniens?  On its face that seems wrong.  A fact could play a role in two separate analyses, being relevant to each in different ways.

Justice Cote, with whom Justices Brown and Rowe agreed, held that “applicable law, as determined by the lex loci delicti principle, should be accorded little weight in the forum non conveniens analysis in cases where jurisdiction is established on the basis of the situs of the tort” (para 90).  She indicated that this conclusion was mandated by the separation of jurisdiction and staying proceedings, which extends to each being “based on different factors”.  So if the place of the tort has been used as the basis for assuming jurisdiction, the same factor (the place of the tort) should not play a role in analyzing the most appropriate forum when considering a stay.  And since the applicable law is one of the factors considered in that analysis, if the applicable law is to be identified based on the connecting factor of the place of the tort, which is the rule in common law Canada, then the applicable law as a factor “should be accorded little weight”.

In separate concurring reasons, Justice Karakatsanis agreed that the applicable law “holds little weight here, where jurisdiction and applicable law are both established on the basis of where the tort was committed” (para 100).  In contrast, the three dissenting judges rejected this reason for reducing the weight of the applicable law (para 208).  The two other judges did not address this issue, so the tally was 4-3 for Justice Cote’s view.

As Vaughan Black has pointed out in discussions about the decision, the majority approach, taken to its logical conclusion, would mean that if jurisdiction is based on the defendant’s residence in the forum then the defendant’s residence is not a relevant factor in assessing which forum is more appropriate.  That contradicts a great many decisions on forum non conveniens.  Indeed, the court did not offer any supporting authorities in which the “double counting” of a fact was said to be inappropriate.

The majority approach has taken analytical separation too far.  There is no good reason for excluding or under-weighing a fact relevant to the forum non conveniens analysis simply because that same fact was relevant at the jurisdiction stage.  Admittedly the court in Club Resorts narrowed the range of facts that are relevant to jurisdiction in part to reduce overlap between the two questions.  But that narrowing was of jurisdiction.  Forum non conveniens remains a broad doctrine that should be based on a wide, open-end range of factors.  The applicable law, however identified, has to be one of them.

The Most Appropriate Forum: Assessing the Applicable Law

Another issue in the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision in Haaretz.com v Goldhar (available here) involves the applicable law as a factor in the forum non conveniens analysis.  It is clear that one of the factors in determining the most appropriate forum is the applicable law.  This is because it is quite easy for the forum to apply its own law and rather more difficult for it to apply the law of another jurisdiction.

So if the defendant can show that the forum would apply not its own law but rather the law of another jurisdiction, that points to a stay of proceedings in favour of that other jurisdiction.  In contrast, if the plaintiff can show that the forum would apply its own law, that points against a stay of proceedings.  In Haaretz.com the plaintiff was able to show that the Ontario court would apply Ontario law, not Israeli law.  So the applicable law factor favoured Ontario.

Not so, argued the defendant, because an Israeli court would apply Israeli law (see para 88).  So as between the two jurisdictions neither was any more convenient than the other!

In the Supreme Court of Canada, four of the judges rejected the defendant’s rejoinder.  The dissenting judges held that “[i]t is entirely appropriate, in our view, for courts to only look at the chosen forum in determining the applicable law.  Requiring courts to assess the choice of law rules of a foreign jurisdiction may require extensive evidence, needlessly complicating the pre-trial motion stage of the proceedings” (para 207).  In separate concurring reasons, Justice Karakatsanis agreed with the dissent on this point (para 100).  So because Ontario would apply Ontario law, this factor favours proceedings in Ontario rather than proceedings in Israel.

In contrast, Justice Cote, with whom Justices Brown and Rowe agreed, stated that “I am concerned that disregarding the applicable law in the alternative forum is inconsistent with the comparative nature of the forum non conveniens analysis” (para 89).  She cited in support an article by Brandon Kain, Elder C. Marques and Byron Shaw (2012).  The other two judges did not comment on this issue, so the court split 4-3 against looking at the applicable law in the alternative forum.

There is force to the practical concern raised by the dissent, and even with the assistance of the parties in many cases the court will be unable to form a sufficiently strong view as to what law the foreign forum would apply.  But conceptually it does seem that if it is established that the foreign forum will apply its own law, that should go to negate the benefits of the plaintiff’s chosen forum applying its own law.  Neither is any more convenient where compared against the other.

Perhaps because of the novelty of the approach, Justice Cote’s application of it may have missed the mark.  She held that “[a]s each forum would apply its own law, the applicable law factor cannot aid Haaretz in showing that it would be fairer and more efficient to proceed in the alternative forum” (para 88).  But the true point flowing from establishing that Israel would apply Israeli law, it would seem, should be that the applicable law factor cannot aid Goldhar (the plaintiff) in showing that it would be fairer and more efficient to proceed in Ontario.  If it cannot aid Haaretz.com that Israel would apply its own law, then how is the factor relevant and why is the court indicating a willingness to consider it?  It surely could not aid Haaretz.com that Israel would apply some other law.

On a motion for a stay, if the court did know what law would be applied in both the chosen forum and the alternative forum, we would have four possible situations.  On Justice Cote’s approach, if both forums would apply their own law, this is a neutral factor.  Similarly, if both forums would apply law other than forum law, this is also a neutral factor.  In the other two situations, the applicable law factor favours the forum that would be applying its own law.  With the court splitting 4-3 against looking at the applicable law in the alternative forum, this is not the approach – but should it be?

The Role of Foreign Enforcement Proceedings in Forum Non Conveniens

The doctrine of forum non conveniens, in looking to identify the most appropriate forum for the litigation, considers many factors.  Two of these are (i) a desire to avoid, if possible, a multiplicity of proceedings and (ii) any potential difficulties in enforcing the decision that results from the litigation.  However, it is important to keep these factors analytically separate.

In the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision in Haaretz.com v Goldhar (available here) Justice Abella noted that “enforcement concerns would favour a trial in Israel, in large part because Haaretz’s lack of assets in Ontario would mean that any order made against it would have to be enforced by Israeli courts, thereby raising concerns about a multiplicity of proceedings” (para 142).  Similarly, Justice Cote concluded (paras 82-83) that the fact that an Ontario order would have to be enforced in Israel was a factor that “slightly” favoured trial in Israel.

Justice Abella has arguably conflated the two factors rather than keeping them separate.  The concerns raised by a multiplicity of proceedings tend to focus on substantive proceedings rather than on subsequent procedural steps to enforce a judgment.  Courts rightly try to avoid substantive proceedings in more than one jurisdiction that arise from the same factual matrix, with one of the core concerns being the potential for inconsistent findings of fact.  Of course, enforcement proceedings do involve an additional step that is avoided if the judgment can simply be enforced locally.  But that, in itself, should not be grouped with the kinds of concerns raised by multiple substantive proceedings.  It will be unfortunate if subsequent courts routinely consider contemplated foreign enforcement proceedings as raising a multiplicity of proceedings concern.

Justice Cote (with whom Justices Brown and Rowe agreed) did not conflate enforcement proceedings and the concern about multiplicity.  However, it should be noted that Club Resorts, which she referenced on this point, stated (para 110 that “problems related to the recognition and enforcement of judgments” is a relevant factor for forum non conveniens.  The stress there should be on “problems”.  If it can be anticipated that there may be problems enforcing the judgment where the assets are, that is an important consideration.  But if no such problems are anticipated, the mere fact that enforcement elsewhere is contemplated should not point even “slightly” against the forum as the place for the litigation.  In Haaretz.com the judges who consider the enforcement factor did not identify any reason to believe that enforcement proceedings in Israel would be other than routine.

The dissenting judges (Chief Justice McLachlin and Justices Moldaver and Gascon) properly separated these two factors in their analysis (paras 234-237).  They did not treat enforcement proceedings as part of the analysis of a multiplicity of proceedings.  On enforcement, their view was that in defamation proceedings it is often sufficient just to obtain the judgment, in vindication of the plaintiff’s reputation, and that enforcement can thus be unnecessary or “irrelevant” (para 236).  Justice Cote strongly disagreed (para 83).  Leaving that dispute to one side, the dissent could have also made the point that this was not a case where any “problems” had been raised about enforcement in Israel.

Staying Proceedings, Undertakings and “Buying” a Forum

One of the points of interest in the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision in Haaretz.com v Goldhar (available here) concerns the appropriateness of the plaintiff’s undertaking to pay the travel and accommodation costs of the defendant’s witnesses, located in Israel, to come to the trial in Ontario.  The defendant had raised the issue of the residence of its witnesses as a factor pointing to Israel being the more appropriate forum.  The plaintiff, one presumes, made a strategic decision to counter this factor by giving the undertaking.

The motions judge and the Court of Appeal for Ontario both considered the undertaking as effective in reducing the difficulties for the defendant in having the litigation in Ontario.  However, the undertaking was viewed quite differently by at least some of the judges of the Supreme Court of Canada.  Justice Cote, joined by Justices Brown and Rowe, stated that “consideration of such an undertaking would allow a wealthy plaintiff to sway the forum non conveniens analysis, which would be inimical to the foundational principles of fairness and efficiency underlying this doctrine” (para 66).  Justice Abella, in separate reasons, stated “I think it would be tantamount to permitting parties with greater resources to tip the scales in their favour by ‘buying’ a forum. … it is their actual circumstances, and not artificially created ones, that should be weighed” (para 140).  The other five judges (two concurring in the result reached by these four; three dissenting) did not comment on the undertaking.

Undertakings by one party in response to concerns raised by the other party on motions to stay are reasonably common.  Many of these do involve some financial commitment.  For example, in response to the concern that various documents will have to be translated into the language of the court, a party could undertake to cover the translation costs.  Similarly, a party might undertake to cover the costs of the other party flowing from more extensive pre-trial discovery procedures in the forum.  Travel and accommodation expenses are perhaps the most common subject for a financial undertaking.  Is the Supreme Court of Canada now holding that these sorts of undertakings are improper?

The more general statement from Justice Abella rejecting artificially created circumstances could have an even broader scope, addressing more than just financial issues.  Is it a criticism of even non-financial undertakings, such as an undertaking by the defendant not to raise a limitation period – otherwise available as a defence – in the foreign forum if the stay is granted?  Is that an artificially-created circumstance?

Vaughan Black has written the leading analysis of conditional stays of proceedings in Canadian law: “Conditional Forum Non Conveniens in Canadian Courts” (2013) 39 Queen’s Law Journal 41.  Undertakings are closely related to conditions.  The latter are imposed by the court as a condition of its order, while the former are offered in order to influence the decision on the motion.  But both deal with very similar content, and undertakings are sometimes incorporated into the order as conditions.  Black observes that in some cases courts have imposed financial conditions such as paying transportation costs and even living costs during litigation (pages 69-70).  Are these conditions now inappropriate, if undertakings about those expenses are?  Or it is different if imposed by the court?

My view is that the four judges who made these comments in Haaretz.com have put the point too strongly.  Forum non conveniens is about balancing the interests of the parties.  If one party points to a particular financial hardship imposed by proceeding in a forum, it should be generally open for the other party to ameliorate this hardship by means of a financial undertaking.  Only in the most extreme cases should a court consider the undertaking inappropriate.  And perhaps, though the judges do not say so expressly, Haaretz.com is such a case, in that there were potentially 22 witness who would need to travel from Israel to Ontario for a trial.


Supreme Court of Canada: Israel, not Ontario, is Forum Conveniens for Libel Proceedings

The decision to stay proceedings under the doctrine of forum non conveniens is discretionary, which in part means that appeal courts should be reluctant to reverse the decisions of motions judges on the issue.  It comes as some surprise, therefore, that the Supreme Court of Canada has disagreed with not only the motions judge but also the Court of Appeal for Ontario and overturned two earlier decisions denying a stay.  In Haaretz.com v Goldhar (available here) the court held (in a 6-3 decision) that the plaintiff’s libel proceedings in Ontario should be stayed because Israel is the clearly more appropriate forum.

The decision is complex, in part because the appeal also considered the issue of jurisdiction and in part because the nine judges ended up writing five sets of reasons, four concurring in the result and a fifth in dissent.  That is very unusual for Canada’s highest court.

The case concerned defamation over the internet.  The plaintiff, a resident of Ontario, alleged that an Israeli newspaper defamed him.  Most readers of the story were in Israel but there were over 200 readers in Ontario.

On assumed jurisdiction, the court was asked by the defendant to reconsider its approach as set out in Club Resorts (available here), at least as concerned cases of internet defamation.  Eight of the nine judges refused to do so.  They confirmed that a tort committed in Ontario was a presumptive connecting factor to Ontario, such that it had jurisdiction unless that presumption was rebutted (and they held it was not).  They also confirmed the orthodoxy that the tort of defamation is committed where the statement is read by a third party, and that in internet cases this is the place where the third party downloads and reads the statement (paras 36-38 and 166-167).  Only one judge, Justice Abella, mused that the test for jurisdiction should not focus on that place but instead on “where the plaintiff suffered the most substantial harm to his or her reputation” (para 129).  This borrows heavily (see para 120) from an approach to choice of law (rather than jurisdiction) that uses not the place of the tort (lex loci delicti) but rather the place of most substantial harm to reputation to identify the applicable law.

On the stay of proceedings, six judges concluded that Israel was the most appropriate forum.  Justice Cote wrote reasons with which Justices Brown and Rowe concurred.  Justice Karakatsanis disagreed with two key points made by Justice Cote but agreed with the result.  Justices Abella and Wagner also agreed with the result but, unlike the other seven judges (see paras 91 and 198), they adopted a new choice of law rule for internet defamation.  This was a live issue on the stay motion because the applicable law is a relevant factor in determining the most appropriate forum.  They rejected the lex loci delicti rule from Tolofson (available here) and instead used as the connecting factor the place of the most substantial harm to reputation (paras 109 and 144).  Justice Wagner wrote separately because he rejected (paras 147-148) Justice Abella’s further suggestion (explained above) that the law of jurisdiction should also be changed along similar lines.

The core disagreement between Justice Cote (for the majority) and the dissent (written jointly by Chief Justice McLachlin and Justices Moldaver and Gascon) was that Justice Cote concluded that the motions judge made six errors of law (para 50) in applying the test for forum non conveniens, so that no deference was required and the court could substitute its own view.  In contrast, the dissent held that four of these errors were “merely points where our colleague would have weighed the evidence differently had she been the motions judge” (para 179) which is inappropriate for an appellate court and that the other two errors were quite minor and had no impact on the overall result (para 178).  The dissent held strongly to the orthodox idea that decisions on motions to stay are entitled to “considerable deference” (para 177) lest preliminary motions and appeals over where litigation should occur undermine stability and increase costs (para 180).

Another fundamental disagreement between Justice Cote and the dissent was their respective view of the scope of the plaintiff’s claim.  During the motion and appeals, the plaintiff made it clear that he was only seeking a remedy in respect of damage to his reputation in Ontario (as opposed to anywhere else) and that he was not going to sue elsewhere.  The dissent accepted that this undertaking to the court limited the scope of the claim (paras 162-163) and ultimately it pointed to Ontario as the most appropriate forum.  In contrast, Justice Cote held that the plaintiff’s undertaking “should not be allowed to narrow the scope of his pleadings” (para 23).  It is very hard to accept that this is correct, and indeed on this point Justice Karakatsanis broke with Justice Cote (para 101) and agreed with the dissent.  Why should the court not accept such an undertaking as akin to an amendment of the pleadings?  Justice Cote claimed that “[n]either Goldhar nor my colleagues … may now redefine Goldhar’s action so that it better responds to Haaretz’s motion to stay” (para 24).  But why should the plaintiff not be able to alter the scope of his claim in the face of objections to that scope from the defendant?

There are many other points of clash in the reasons, too many to engage with fully here.  How important, at a preliminary stage, is examination of what particular witnesses who have to travel might say?  What role does the applicable law play in the weighing of the more appropriate forum when it appears that each forum might apply its own law?  Does a subsequent proceeding to enforce a foreign judgment count toward a multiplicity of proceedings (which is to be avoided) or do only substantive proceedings (on the merits) count?  Is it acceptable for a court to rely on an undertaking from the plaintiff to pay the travel and accommodation costs for the defendant’s witnesses or is this allowing a plaintiff to “buy” a forum?

It might be tempting to treat the decision as very much a product of its specific facts, so that it does not offer much for future cases.  There could, however, be cause for concern.  As a theme, the majority lauded “a robust and careful” assessment of forum non conveniens motions (para 3).  If this robust and careful assessment is to be performed by appellate courts, is this consistent with deference to motions judges in their discretionary, fact-specific analysis?  The dissent did not think so (para 177).