Tag Archive for: conflict of laws

Symposium Publication: Court Jurisdiction and Proceedings Transfer Act

The most recent issue of the Osgoode Hall Law Journal (available here) is a special issue, guest edited by Janet Walker, Gerard Kennedy and Sagi Peari, considering the Court Jurisdiction and Proceedings Transfer Act.  This statute governs the taking of jurisdiction and both staying and transferring proceedings in civil and commercial matters in three Canadian provinces: British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan.

The abstract to the introductory article states: “In 2016, the Court Jurisdiction and Proceedings Transfer Act (“CJPTA”) marked its tenth year in force.  Promulgated by the Uniform Law Conference of Canada, and adopted in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, the CJPTA was developed to clarify and advance the law of judicial jurisdiction.  In a symposium hosted by Osgoode Hall Law School, ten leading scholars were invited to present papers on specific questions in order to assess the promise of the CJPTA to meet the needs of Canadians in the years ahead and to provide leadership for the law in other parts of Canada.  This article provides an overview of the issues discussed in the symposium; it places the papers that were presented in the larger context of developments in the law of judicial jurisdiction in Canada and internationally; and it summarizes in an appendix the drafting reforms that might be made to the Act.”

The articles about the CJPTA are:

Judicial Jurisdiction in Canada: The CJPTA—A Decade of Progress (Janet Walker)

Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other? Jurisdiction in Common Law Canada (Stephen G.A. Pitel)

Jurisdiction Motions and Access to Justice: An Ontario Tale (Gerard J. Kennedy)

Has the CJPTA readied Canada for the Hague Choice of Court Convention? (Geneviève Saumier)

General Jurisdiction over Corporate Defendants under the CJPTA: Consistent with International Standards? (Catherine Walsh)

Residual Discretion: The Concept of Forum of Necessity under the Court Jurisdiction and Proceedings Transfer Act (Michael Sobkin)

Three Objections to Forum of Necessity: Global Access to Justice, International Criminal Law, and Proper Party (Sagi Peari)

Cross-Border Transfers of Court Proceedings (Vaughan Black)

The Court Jurisdiction and Proceedings Transfer Act and the Hague Conference’s Judgments and Jurisdiction Projects (Joost Blom)

New Article: Jurisdiction Clauses in Canada

Tanya Monestier (Roger Williams University School of Law) has published an article (available here) addressing the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Douez v Facebook, Inc. (available here).

The abstract reads: Every day, billions of people use the online social media platform, Facebook.  Facebook requires, as a condition of use, that users “accept” its terms and conditions — which include a forum selection clause nominating California as the exclusive forum for dispute resolution.  In Douez v. Facebook, the Supreme Court of Canada considered whether this forum selection clause was enforceable, or whether the plaintiff could proceed with her suit in British Columbia.  The Supreme Court of Canada ultimately decided that the forum selection clause was not enforceable.  It held that the plaintiff had established “strong cause” for departing from the forum selection clause.  The Court premised its decision on two primary considerations: the contract involved a consumer and was one of adhesion, and the claim involved the vindication of privacy rights. The Court’s analysis suffers from several major weaknesses that will undoubtedly cause confusion in this area of law.  This Article will examine those weaknesses, and argue that the Supreme Court of Canada actually abandoned the strong cause test that it claimed to be applying.  The consequence of the Douez decision is that many forum selection clauses — at least in the consumer context — will be rendered unenforceable.  While this may be a salutary development from the perspective of consumer protection, it will undoubtedly have an effect on companies choosing to do business in Canada.

UKSC on Traditional Rules of Jurisdiction: Brownlie v Four Seasons Holdings Incorporated

Shortly before Christmas the UKSC released its decision on jurisdiction in Brownlie v Four Seasons Holdings Incorporated (available here). Almost all the legal analysis is obiter dicta because, on the facts, it emerges that no claim against the British Columbia-based holding corporation could succeed (para 15) and the appeal is allowed on that basis. I suppose there is a back story as to why it took a trip to the UKSC and an extraordinary step by that court (para 14) for the defendant to make those facts clear, but I don’t know what it is. On the facts there are other potential defendants to the plaintiffs’ claim and time will tell whether jurisdictional issues arise for them.

The discussion of the value of the place of making a contract for jurisdiction purposes is noteworthy. In para 16 two of the judges (Sumption, Hughes) are critical of using the traditional common law rules on where a contract is made for purposes of taking jurisdiction. This has been the subject of debate in some recent Canadian decisions, notably the difference in approach between the Court of Appeal for Ontario and the Supreme Court of Canada in Lapointe Rosenstein Marchand Melançon LLP v Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP, 2016 SCC 30 (available here). The SCC was fine with using the traditional rules for this purpose. In Brownlie, I do not think it is clear as to what view the other three judges take on this point.

Even more interestingly, the UKSC judges split 3-2 on how to understand the idea of damage in the forum as a basis for jurisdiction. Three judges (Hale, Wilson, Clarke) retain the traditional broad common law view – the position in many Canadian provinces prior to Club Resorts Ltd v Van Breda, 2012 SCC 17 (available here) – that ongoing suffering in the forum in respect of a tort that happened abroad is sufficient. Two judges (Sumption, Hughes) reject that approach and adopt a more narrow meaning of damage in the forum (it must be direct damage only).

This 3-2 split is closer even than it might first seem, since Lord Wilson (para 57) suggests that in a different case with fuller argument on the point the court might reach a different result.

Canadian law does not get a fair description in the UKSC decision. The court notes twice (para 21 and para 67) that Canada’s common law uses a broad meaning of damage for taking jurisdiction. Club Resorts, and the change to the law it represents on this very issue, is not mentioned. This is yet another illustration of the importance of being careful when engaging in comparative law analysis.

Conflicts – Between Domestic and Indigenous Legal Systems?

In Beaver v Hill, 2017 ONSC 7245 (available here) the applicant sought custody, spousal support and child support. All relevant facts happened in Ontario. Read more

New Article: Conflict of Laws and Relational Feminism

Readers of this blog might be interested in Roxana Banu, “A Relational Feminist Approach to Conflict of Laws” (2017) 24 Mich. J. Gender & L. 1.  It can be accessed through SSRN at this location.

The specific context is transnational surrogacy arrangements, but much of the article goes beyond that to other areas of the field more generally.  The article engages with work by several other scholars who write about theories or philosophies of private international law.

The Abstract is below.

Feminist writers have long engaged in critiques of private law. Surrogacy contracts or the “reasonable man” standard in torts, for example, have long been the subjects of thorough feminist analysis and critique. When private law issues touch on more than one jurisdiction, Conflict of Laws is the doctrine that determines which jurisdiction can try the case and—as separate questions—which jurisdiction’s law should apply and under what conditions a foreign judgment can be recognized and enforced. Yet, there are virtually no feminist perspectives on Conflict of Laws (also known as Private International Law). This is still more surprising when one considers that feminist approaches to Public International Law have been developing for over a quarter century.

In this Article, I show that there is a fundamental need to rethink the image of the transnational individual in Conflict of Laws theory and methodology. It is here, I argue, that feminism—specifically relational, often known as cultural, feminism—has an important contribution to make to Conflict of Laws. I develop a relational feminist approach to Conflict of Laws and apply it to a pressing contemporary issue, namely transnational surrogacy arrangements.

Overall, this Article shows how relational feminism can illuminate the problems of adopting an atomistic image of the individual in a transnational context, as well as provide an outline for an alternative—a relational theory of the self that redefines autonomy and the law, creating an important shift in how Conflict of Laws perceives its regulatory dimensions. The Article connects three of relational feminism’s core insights—the notion of relational autonomy, the focus on relationships, and relational theories of judging—to Conflict of Laws theory and methodology.

Worldwide Removal Order Upheld Against Google

The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld, by a 7-2 decision, an injunction issued by lower courts in British Columbia requiring Google, a non-party to the litigation, to globally remove or “de-index” the websites of the defendant so that they do not appear in any search results.  This is the first such decision by Canada’s highest court.

In Google Inc. v Equustek Solutions Inc., 2017 SCC 34 (available here) Equustek sued Datalink for various intellectual property violations relating to the manufacture and sale of a networking device.  Interlocutory orders were made against Datalink but it did not comply and it cut any connections it had to British Columbia (para 7).  It continued its conduct, operating from an unknown location and selling its device over the internet.  After some cooperative efforts with Google (de-indexing specific web pages but not Datalink’s entire websites) were unsuccessful to stop potential customers from finding Datalink’s device, Equustek sought an interlocutory injunction stopping Google from including any parts of Datalink websites in its search results worldwide.  Google acknowledged that it could do this relatively easily (paras 43 and 50) but it resisted the injunction.

The issue of the British Columbia court’s in personam or territorial jurisdiction over Google featured prominently in the lower court decisions, especially that of Justice Fenlon for the British Columbia Supreme Court (available here).  This is an interesting issue in its own right, considering the extent to which a corporation can be present or carry on business in a province in a solely virtual (through the internet) manner (rather than having any physical presence).  There is considerable American law on this issue, including the much-discussed decision in Zippo Manufacturing v Zippo Dot Com Inc., 952 F Supp 119 (WD Pa 1997).  In the Supreme Court of Canada, Google barely raised the question of jurisdiction, leading the court to state that it had not challenged the lower courts’ findings of in personam and territorial jurisdiction (para 37).  So more on that issue will have to wait for another case.

The majority decision (written by Abella J) applies the standard three-part test for an interlocutory injunction (para 25).  In doing so it confirms two important points.  First, it holds that a non-party can be made subject to an interlocutory injunction.  It relies on considerable jurisprudence about Norwich orders and Mareva injunctions, both of which frequently bind non-parties.  The common theme the court draws from these cases and applies to this case is the necessity of the non-party being bound for the order to be effective.  In the majority’s view, the injunction against Google is a necessity if the ongoing irreparable harm to Equustek is to be stopped (para 35).  Second, it holds that an interlocutory injunction can be made with extraterritorial effect in cases in which the court has in personam jurisdiction over the entity being enjoined (para 38).  Again, it made such an extraterritorial order in this case because that was, in its view, necessary for the injunction to be effective.  An order limited to searches or websites in Canada would not have addressed the harm.

The dissenting judges (Cote J and Rowe J) accept both of these important points of law.  They acknowledge that the court has the ability, in law, to issue such an injunction (para 55).  But on the facts of this case they determine that the injunction should not have been granted, for several reasons.  First, the injunction is not interlocutory but rather permanent, so that more restraint is warranted.  In their view, Equustek will not continue the action against Datalink, content to have obtained the order against Google (paras 62-63).  In response, the majority notes it is open to Google to apply in future to have the order varied or vacated if the proceedings have not progressed toward trial (para 51).  Because they consider the injunction to be permanent, the dissenting judges object that no violation of Equustek’s rights has as of yet been established on a balance of probabilities (para 66) such that there is no foundation for such a remedy.  Since the majority considers the injunction to be interlocutory this issue does not arise for it.

Second, the dissent rejects the reliance on Norwich orders and Mareva injunctions, noting that in those cases the order does not enforce a plaintiff’s substantive rights (para 72).  In essence, this order is a step farther than the courts have gone in previous cases and not one the dissent is willing to take.  The dissent also denies the injunction because (i) it is mandatory in nature rather than prohibitive, (ii) it is unconvinced that the order would be effective in reducing harm to Equustek and (iii) it thinks there is sufficient evidence that Datalink could be sued in France so that an alternative to enjoining Google is available.  Aspects of this supplementary reasoning are open to debate.  First, the distinction between mandatory and prohibitive orders is not overly rigid and in any event mandatory orders are possible, especially in cases in which the target of the order can easily comply.  Second, common sense suggests the injunction would have at least some impact on the ongoing alleged violations, even though of course there are other internet search engines.  Moreover, the majority points out that it is “common ground that Datalink was unable to carry on business in a commercially viable way unless its websites were in Google’s search results” (para 34).  On the issue of effectiveness, the dissenting judges do not seem to be on this common ground.  Third, proceedings against Datalink in France might or might not be viable.  Even if it could be found in France, it could subsequently leave the jurisdiction and continue its operations elsewhere.  So this seems a hard basis on which to deny Equustek the injunction.

It is fair for the dissent to point out that this injunction is not perfectly analogous to Norwich orders and Mareva injunctions.  It does move beyond those cases.  The debate is whether this is a reasonable incremental move in the jurisprudence relating to the internet or goes too far.  The majority’s overarching rationale for the move is the necessity of the injunction on these facts.  Coupled with the ease with which Google can comply, this is a sufficient basis to evolve the law in the way the court does.

Law on Jurisdiction Clauses Changes in Canada

In 2011 Facebook, Inc. used the name and picture of certain Facebook.com members as part of an advertising product.  In response, a class action was started in British Columbia on behalf of roughly 1.8 million British Columbia residents whose name and picture had been used.  The claim was based on section 3(2) of the province’s Privacy Act.  In response, Facebook, Inc. sought a stay of proceedings based on an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of California contained in the contracts of use for all Facebook.com members.

Canadian courts had repeatedly held that “strong cause” must be shown to displace an exclusive jurisdiction clause.  In addition, while there was some ambiguity, the leading view had become that the analysis about whether to stay proceedings due to such a clause is separate and distinct from the general forum non conveniens analysis (para 18).  The clause is not simply an important part of the forum non conveniens analysis – rather, it triggers a separate analysis.

In Douez v Facebook, Inc., 2017 SCC 33 (available here) the Supreme Court of Canada confirms the second of these points: the analysis is indeed separate.  However, by a slim majority of 4-3 the court holds that the “strong cause” test operates differently in a consumer context than in the commercial context in which it was originally formulated.  The court overturns the decision of the British Columbia Court of Appeal and rejects a stay of proceedings, paving the way for the class action to proceed in British Columbia.

The Separate Analysis

All of the judges support the separation from forum non conveniens (paras 17, 20 and 131).  I have found this approach troubling as it has developed and so, while not a surprise, I am disappointed to see it confirmed by the court.  As I understand it, the core reason for the separate analysis is to make sure that the clause is not overcome by a series of less important factors aggregated under the forum non conveniens analysis.  So the separate analysis requires that the “strong cause” to overcome the clause has to involve something closely related or intrinsic to the clause itself.  The best explanation of this view is in Expedition Helicopters Inc. v Honeywell Inc., 2010 ONCA 351 (available here; see in particular para 24).  The problem is that courts, in their search for strong cause, frequently go beyond this and refer to factors that are well established under the forum non conveniens approach.

In its analysis, the court puts almost no emphasis on (and does not really even explain, in the way Expedition Helicopters does) how the separate approach differs from forum non conveniens in terms of how the clause gets displaced.  In places, it appears to actually be discussing forum non conveniens (see paras 29-30 and 155), in part perhaps due to its quite direct reliance on The Eleftheria, an English decision I think is more consistent with a unitary framework rather than a separate approach (a point noted in Expedition Helicopters at para 11).  In Douez, the plurality finds strong cause for two reasons: public policy and secondary factors (para 64).  Leaving public policy aside for the moment, it is telling that the secondary factors are “the interests of justice” and “comparative convenience and expense”.  These are the most conventional of forum non conveniens factors.  If this analysis is followed by lower courts, rather than that as explained in Expedition Helicopters, the separate analysis might end up not being very separate.

The Consumer Context

The majority (which is comprised of two decisions: a plurality by three judges and a separate solo concurrence) considers the unequal bargaining power and potential for the relinquishing of rights in the consumer context to warrant a different approach to the “strong cause” test (para 33).  In part, public policy must be considered to determine whether the clause is to be given effect.  As a matter of law, this may well be acceptable.  But one of the key features of the plurality decision is the basis on which it concludes that strong cause has been shown on the facts.  It reaches this conclusion because the contract is one of adhesion with notable inequality of bargaining power and because the claim being brought relates to “quasi-constitutional rights” (para 58), namely privacy.  If these factors are sufficient, then a great many exclusive jurisdiction clauses in standard form contracts with consumers are subject to being defeated on a similar basis.  Lots of consumer contracts involve unequal bargaining strength and are in essence “take it or leave it” contracts.  And it may well not be that difficult for claims to be advanced, alongside other claims, that involve some form of quasi-constitutional rights (the breadth of this is untested).  This possibility that many other clauses do not provide the protection once thought is likely the most notable dimension of the decision.

The Dissent

The dissent would not modify the “strong cause” test (paras 125 and 171).  It stresses the need for certainty and predictability, which are furthered by exclusive jurisdiction clauses (paras 124 and 159).  The dissent concludes the clause became part of the contract, is clear and is not unconscionable.  It reviews possible factors which could amount to strong cause and finds none of them present.  It is critical of the majority for its use of public policy as a factor in the strong cause analysis.  If the clause is enforceable – and in its view it is, even with the inequality of bargaining power – then it is wrong to rely on the factors used by the plurality to find strong cause (para 173).  In the immediate aftermath of the decision I think the dissent has the better of the argument on whether strong cause has been shown in this particular case.

Territorial versus Subject Matter Jurisdiction

The proposed class action relies on a statutory provision.  That statute contains a provision (section 4) that provides that the British Columbia Supreme Court must hear and determine claims under the statute.  The British Columbia Court of Appeal concluded that this provision addresses subject matter jurisdiction and not territorial jurisdiction (para 14).  The dissent agrees with that view (para 142).  In contrast, the plurality conflates the two types of jurisdiction.  While it accepts that the provision is not one which overrides jurisdiction clauses (para 41), in the public policy analysis it is concerned that in litigation in California the plaintiff class would have no claim (para 59).  But as the dissent points out, it is open to the California courts to apply the statute under its choice of law analysis (paras 165-66).  No evidence was adduced to the contrary.  Section 4, properly interpreted, does not prevent that.  Even more worrying is the analysis of Justice Abella in her solo concurring decision.  She concludes that section 4 deals with territorial jurisdiction and so overrides any jurisdiction clause to the contrary (paras 107-08).  This is a remarkable interpretation of section 4, one which would see many other provisions about subject matter jurisdiction instead read as though they addressed territorial jurisdiction (which she does in footnote 1 in para 109).


The split between the judges as to what amounts to strong cause sufficient to set aside an exclusive jurisdiction clause is the most dramatic aspect of the decision.  They see what is at stake very differently.  On one view, this is a case in which consumers should not be deprived of important statutory rights by a clause to which they did not truly agree.  On another view, this is a case in which contracting parties should be held to their agreement as to the forum in which any disputes which arise should be resolved because, even though the contract involves consumers, the agreement is not unfair and has not been shown to deprive them of any substantive rights.  This debate will now play out across a wide range of consumer contracts.

Characterization of Unfunded Pension Liability Claims

In Re Walter Energy Canada Holdings, Inc, 2017 BCSC 709 (available here) the British Columbia Supreme Court had to consider the validity of a large claim (over $1 billion) filed in restructuring proceedings underway in the province under federal legislation.  The claim was for unfunded pension liabilities and was based on an American statute, the Employee Retirement and Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. § 1001.  So the court had to consider whether that statute could apply to a claim in British Columbia against entities organized in Canada (mostly in British Columbia).

Starting at para. 93 the court considered whether the claim against the entities being restructured was governed by Canadian or American law (in each case the relevant law was either federal rather than provincial or state or did not vary as between provinces).  This is a choice of law question which raises the issue of the characterization of the claim.  Canadian courts do not often analyze characterization in detail, but the court did so in this case, making the decision notable.  The claimant argued that the claim was one in the law of obligations and sought to identify the proper law of the obligation.  The entities being restructured in contrast argued the claim went to a point of corporate law, namely their separate existence from other entities in an international corporate group.  The court referred to several of the main general authorities about the characterization process but considered the specific issue before it to be one of first instance.  It sided with the entities being restructured – the claim went to the issue of separation of corporate personality and status.  The American statute was imposing liability by “lifting the corporate veil” (paras. 137-38) between international corporate entities.

Having characterized the issue, the court then had to identify the connecting factor for the choice of law rule.  It held:

[160] The issue as to whether the Walter Canada Group’s separate legal personalities can be ignored is subject to the Canadian choice of law rule that the status and legal personality of a corporation is governed by the law of the place in which it was incorporated, namely British Columbia and Alberta. Here, as with the corporations within the Walter Canada Group, both with limited liability and unlimited liability, it is admitted that all of the partnerships were organized under British Columbia law. Accordingly, the choice of law analysis leads to the same result in relation to the partnerships, namely British Columbia law, including under the Partnership Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 348.

[161] The place of incorporation or organization is a matter of public record and all persons who would do business with or otherwise deal with the Walter Canada Group entities would or should be well aware of that fact.

[162] I agree that, under Canadian choice of law rules, the place of incorporation or organization of the Walter Canada Group entities is the appropriate “connecting factor” in relation to the issue arising from the 1974 Plan’s claim.  As a result, British Columbia and Alberta law determine whether the separate legal personalities of the Walter Canada Group entities can be ignored.

Given that the American statute is not part of British Columbia or Alberta law, the court concluded that the claim failed (paras. 177-78).

 I want to reflect more on the decision, but at this point I am not certain I agree with the characterization analysis.  It is true that the only way the American statute makes the Canadian entities liable is by imposing liability on others within a larger corporate group.  But to me it does not follow that the statute is a matter of corporate status and not of obligation.  The statute imposes an obligation and extends that obligation to various entities.  I think there is room to debate that the primary element of the statute is the obligation it imposes.

However, support for the decision could lie in Macmillan Inc v Bishopsgate Investment Trust (No 3), [1996] 1 WLR 387 (CA), which the court does mention (see for example para. 126), which stresses the possibility of characterizing a specific legal issue within the context of a broader claim.  The analysis could be that there is a nested issue – that of corporate separation or status – within the broader question of liability for an unfunded pension.

New International Commercial Arbitration Statute for Ontario

Ontario has enacted and brought into force the International Commercial Arbitration Act, 2017, SO 2017, c 2, Sched 5 (available here) to replace its previous statute on international commercial arbitration.  The central feature of the new statute is that it provides that BOTH the 1958 New York Convention and the 1985 Model Law have the force of law in Ontario.  Previously, when Ontario had given the Model Law the force of law in Ontario it had repealed its statute that had given the New York Convention the force of law in Ontario.  This made Ontario an outlier within Canada since the New York Convention has the force of law in all other provinces (as does the Model Law).

The previous statute did not address the issue of the limitation period for enforcing a foreign award.  The new statute addresses this in section 10, adopting a general 10 year period from the date of the award (subject to some exceptions).   Section 8 deals with the consolidation of arbitrations and section 11 deals with appeals from arbitral decisions on jurisdiction.

New Canadian Reference on Conflict of Laws

Halsbury’s Laws of Canada (first edition) has published a reissue (September 2016) of its volume on Conflict of Laws.  It is written by Professor Janet Walker, the author of the leading Canadian textbook in the field.  The reissue is highly detailed with over 260 pages of tables (cases, conventions, legislation), an index and a glossary.  The substantive content runs to over 600 pages including lengthy footnotes.  The reissue can be purchased as a stand-alone reference (without buying the entire Halsbury’s collection) for conflict of laws in Canada (publisher information available here).