Tag Archive for: Quebec

Is this a Conflicts Case?

In Sharp v Autorité des marchés financiers, 2023 SCC 29 (available here) the Supreme Court of Canada has held that a Quebec administrative tribunal, the Financial Markets Administrative Tribunal, can hear a proceeding brought by the administrative agency that regulates Quebec’s financial sector, the Autorité des marchés financiers, against four defendants who reside in British Columbia.  The AMF alleged in the proceedings that the defendants had contravened the Quebec Securities Act.

The courts below, including a majority of the Quebec Court of Appeal, focused the analysis on s. 93 of the Act respecting the Autorité des marchés financiers, CQLR, c. A-33.2, which grants the FMAT jurisdiction to make determinations under the Securities Act.  They interpreted and applied this provision in light of Unifund Assurance Co. v Insurance Corp. of British Columbia, 2003 SCC 40, a leading decision on the scope of application of provincial law, which held that a provincial regulatory scheme constitutionally applies to an out-of-province defendant when there is a “real and substantial connection”, also described as a “sufficient connection”, between the province and the defendant.  This test was met on the facts [see para 22] and so the FMAT had jurisdiction.  This analysis is not generally understood as being within the field of conflict of laws.  Indeed, the majority of the Court of Appeal “saw no conflict of jurisdiction or any conflict of laws that would require the application of private international law rules to this case” [see para 29].

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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.

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

Canadian Case on State Immunity

In Kazemi (Estate of) v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 2011 QCCS 196 (available here) the estate of Zahra Kazemi and her son, Stephan Kazemi, sued Iran and certain state officials in Quebec, alleging that in 2003 Ms. Kazemi was tortured and assassinated in Iran.  The defendants argued that the claim could not succeed due to state immunity. 

Much of the court’s analysis involves the provisions of the State Immunity Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. S-18.  The court has to consider whether this statute is a complete code on the issue of state immunity or whether it is open to courts to create exceptions to the statutory immunity beyond those listed in the statute.  The court also has to address whether aspects of the statute are constitutional. 

The court ends up concluding that the estate has no claim because the wrongs done to her occurred in Iran and so are covered by the immunity under the statute.  However, the court allows the claim by Stephan Kazemi, a claim for his own losses arising from hearing the reports of what was done to his mother, to continue since his losses were suffered in Quebec, not Iran, and so the immunity does not cover them (see section 6 of the statute). 

The decision is lengthy (220 paragraphs), and yet it does not mention the recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada on state immunity: Kuwait Airways Corporation v. Republic of Iraq from October 2010.

Quebec Court Stays Palestinian Claim Against West Bank Builders

Things have certainly been quiet on the Canadian front over the past few months.  Ending the lull, in a decision filled with different conflict of laws issues, the Quebec Superior Court held, in Bil’In Village Council and Yassin v. Green Park International Inc. (available here), that Israel is the most appropriate forum for the dispute and therefore it stayed the proceedings in Quebec.

The plaintiffs, resident in the occupied West Bank, sued two corporations incorporated in Quebec for their involvement in building housing for Israelis in the West Bank.  The plaintiffs alleged violation of several international law principles.

The reasons address several interesting issues: 1. whether the defendants are protected by state immunity as agents of Israel [no], 2. whether decisions of the High Court of Justice in Israel in which the plaintiffs participated were recognizable in Quebec [yes], 3. whether these judgments statisfied the test for res judicata [no], 4. whether the plaintiffs had the necessary legal interest required under Quebec law to bring the proceedings [yes for one, no for the other], 5. whether the cause of action had no reasonable hope of succeeding [no], 6. whether the court should stay the proceedings [yes].

On the appropriate forum issue, the factual connections massively pointed away from Quebec.  The defendants were incorporated there, but largely for tax purposes – they did no business there – and that was the only connection to Quebec.  A key issue was whether the issues raised in the proceedings could be fairly resolved by an Israeli court, but the court found the expert evidence on this point favoured the defendants, not the plaintiffs.  This may be the most controversial aspect of the decision.

The decision also contains lengthy analysis of the applicable law and some comments on the absence of proof of foreign law.

It is not common for Canadian courts to mention, as a factor in the forum non conveniens analysis, the state of access to the local courts for local plaintiffs (the docket-crowding issue American courts do consider).  In this case, however, this factor is noted by the court in its reasons for staying the proceedings.