Mediation, with plenary sessions, small break-out rooms for parties and their counsel, and a mediator shuttling between the rooms seem like a distant, archaic memory. The former format of mediation is the antithesis of social distancing.
(I find it hard to now watch a tv show or movie without thinking to myself, “That’s not very good social distancing.”)
However, the show, litigation and mediations, must go on. Welcome to the age of virtual mediation.
Programs such as Zoom allow for parties to meet and discuss ideas and resolve differences without being physically in the same room. While the virtual alternative is not perfect, it is workable.
With Zoom, there are a few ways for mediations to be accommodated. One option is for the organizer to set up several online meetings: one to be used as a plenary session where everyone has access, and one for each of the parties to the litigation. In the plenary room, all of the parties and their counsel can join. In the parties’ separate room, only the party and their counsel can participate, with the mediator joining and leaving as necessary.
Another option is for the organizer to set up one meeting. The organizer would be able to admit participants into the meeting room, or put them into a virtual “waiting room” while others remain in the meeting room.
Another consideration when organizing a Zoom mediation is to ensure that the organizer has a Pro account or better. While the Basic account is free, it only allows for meetings of 40 minutes or less. The Pro account, at $20 per month per host, allows for meetings of up to 24 hours, which should probably enough for most mediations. (Some mediators are slow mediators: you know who you are.)
Some reporting services are offering virtual mediation assistance. Neesons, for example, can offer extensive technical support for mediations, examinations and arbitrations. They have also hosted a number of presentations on virtual examinations, arbitrations and mediations. Contact them if you want more information.
(Fun fact: Zoom Video was trading at $68.04 on December 31, 2019. On March 23, 2020, it was trading at $159.56. As of the time of writing this (April 2, 2020), share prices had relaxed to $118.10.)
Thank you for reading. Stay healthy. Practice safe litigation.
Many of us are familiar with the expression: “Time waits for no one.” We also previously blogged about the impact time has on all parties in litigation: “No one likes to see a limitation period applied to dismiss a claim.” (So says Justice Nakatsuru in the opening line of his decision in Sinclair v. Harris.)
In general, claims must be commenced in a timely fashion. If too much time passes–depending on the circumstances and nature of the claim–parties may be prohibited from commencing a lawsuit, or have their lawsuit dismissed, by what is known as a ‘limitation period’.
With the recent developments of COVID-19, however, the Lieutenant Governor in Council made an Order under s. 7.1 of Ontario’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act suspending limitation periods in Ontario. This suspension is retroactive to March 16, 2020. A copy of the Order can be found here.
What happens when the suspension is lifted? It will be interesting to see if limitation periods go back to existing the day this suspension is lifted, or if further legislation may be needed to deal with this issue. For now, it appears that “time” is waiting for everyone.
Thanks for reading!
Recent developments with COVID-19 mean a number of procedural changes have been put in place at the Toronto Estates List. The following operations are effective as of March 23, 2020:
1. All regular matters which have been scheduled and are not urgent, or time sensitive, are adjourned to after June 1, 2020 and are not currently being rescheduled, subject to any further direction from the Court (in accordance with the Notice to the Profession issued by Chief Justice Morawetz, March 15, 2020).
2. The judges of the Toronto Estates List will continue to hear and decide urgent and time-sensitive matters. The procedure for urgent matters on the Estates List is the same as the procedure for urgent matters on the Commercial List and will be in accordance with the procedure set out in the Changes to Commercial List Operations in light of the COVID-19 March 16, 2020 advisory, with necessary changes. For greater certainty, all urgent requests and materials on the Estates List should be sent to the Commercial List trial coordinator at Toronto.email@example.com
3. There is no change to the usual procedure for filing materials in matters that are to be considered by the Court in writing, including motions for consent orders and ex parte orders. Materials for matters to be heard in writing may still be filed at the Estates Office, subject to any further direction of the Court.
4. Applications for Certificates of Appointment (i.e. probate) are still be accepted and processed by the Estate Office.
5. Notices of Application (Forms 14E, 74.44, and 75.5) will continue to be issued by the Estates Office but instead of fixing a return date the Notice of Application shall indicate that the matter will be heard: “on a date to be fixed by the Registrar.”
6. Notices of Objections (Form 75.1) may be filed in the Estates Office as usual.
The PDF copy of the above notice can be found here.
Thanks for reading,
Yesterday, Arielle Di Iulio blogged on COVID-19 and the response by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
In a Notice dated March 15, 2020, the Chief Justice of Ontario advised that the Superior Court of Justice is suspending all regular operations until further notice. All criminal, family and civil matters scheduled to be heard after March 17, 2020 are adjourned.
There is an exception for “urgent matters”. as defined in the Notice, and a procedure is set out for dealing with such urgent matters.
For the most part, the court is still accepting filings. Where an application is to be issued, it is issued without a fixed return date.
How can parties obtain relief if a matter is not urgent? Consider a motion in writing.
Rule 37.12.1(1) of Ontario’s Rules of Civil Procedure allows a motion to be brought in writing without the attendance of the parties (unless the court orders otherwise), where the motion is on consent, unopposed or without notice.
Further, under Rule 37.12.1(4), a party may propose that the motion be “heard in writing” without the attendance of the parties where the “issues of fact and law are not complex”. In response, the responding party may agree to have the motion “heard and determined in writing”, or serve a notice that the responding party intends to make oral argument.
As serving a notice of intention to make oral argument will essentially, for now, prevent the motion from proceeding, now more than ever parties and their counsel must practice the “three C’s” of the commercial court: co-operation, communication and common sense.
Stay safe. Have a great, but isolated weekend.
Ontario has officially declared a state of emergency amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and efforts to quell the spread of the coronavirus are now stronger than ever. Indeed, the Federal Government is urging everyone to engage in social distancing, and the courts are no exception.
On March 15, 2020, the Superior Court of Justice published a Notice to the Profession, the Public and the Media Regarding Civil and Family Proceedings (the “Notice”), wherein it announced the suspension of Superior Court of Justice regular operations.
Specifically, the Notice states that all criminal, family and civil matters scheduled to be heard on or after March 17, 2020 are adjourned except for urgent and emergency matters. Matters considered to be “urgent” are set out in the Notice and include motions and applications related to public health and safety and COVID-19; the safety of a child or parent; and time-sensitive civil motions with significant financial repercussions if not heard, among others.
To bring an urgent matter, the motion and application materials can be filed with the court by email. Notably, where it is not possible to email a sworn affidavit, an unsworn affidavit can be delivered as long as the affiant participates in any telephone or videoconference hearing to swear or affirm the affidavit. Urgent matters may be heard and determined in writing, by teleconference or videoconference, unless the court determines that an in-person hearing is necessary and safe.
Although people are being advised to avoid unnecessary attendances at Court, they nevertheless remain open and parties can continue to process “regular filings”. However, the flexible procedures that have been put in place for urgent matters do not extend to regular filings, which remain subject to the Rules of Civil Procedure.
The court’s response to COVID-19 is a prime example of how the legal system as a whole is being forced to lean on technology in these unusual and uncertain times. While many legal professionals have already adopted digital practices, the courts continue to be behind the times. The Auditor General’s latest audit of Ontario’s court system found that “the Ministry’s pace in modernizing the court system remained slow, and the system is still heavily paper-based, making it inefficient and therefore keeping it from realizing potential cost savings”. Perhaps this period will give the much-needed impetus for courts to modernize their operations by using electronic service, filing, hearings, and document management more routinely. This would likely be a welcome change for all.
Thanks for reading and stay safe!
Communications between a client and litigation counsel may be considered privileged, and therefore may not be producible in the litigation.
This privilege can be extended to communications between parties and counsel to litigation who have a “common interest”.
“Common interest privilege” has been described as arising “where one party (party A) voluntarily discloses a document which is privileged in its hands to another party (party B) who has a common interest in the subject matter of the communication or in litigation in connection with which the document was brought into being.” The result is that the document is privileged in the hands of party B.
To put it another way, in the leading case of Iggillis Holdings Inc. v. Canada (National Revenue), 2018 FCA 51 (CanLII), (leave to the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed) the Federal Court of Appeal stated:
[S]olicitor-client privilege is not waived when an opinion provided by a lawyer to one party is disclosed, on a confidential basis, to other parties with sufficient common interest in the same transactions. This principle applies whether the opinion is first disclosed to the client of the particular lawyer and then to the other parties or simultaneously to the client and the other parties. In each case, the solicitor-client privilege that applies to the communication by the lawyer to his or her client of a legal opinion is not waived when that opinion is disclosed, on a confidential basis, to other parties with sufficient common interest in the same transactions.
Common interest privilege is not a “stand-alone privilege”: it extends an existing privilege to the receiving party. The communication must be otherwise privileged for common interest privilege to apply. For example, a document that is subject to privilege in the hands of party A may also remain privileged in the hand of party B, if there is a common interest at the time the document is disclosed.
The onus of establishing that a document is privileged from production rests on the party asserting the privilege. That party must provide evidence that supports the claim of privilege. If necessary, the court can review the documents in order to decide the validity of the claim: Rule 30.04(6) of the Rules of Civil Procedure.
The determination of whether the privilege exists depends upon objective evidence of the purpose and content of the communications and not the mere belief of the parties.
The concept is discussed at length in the matter of Ross v. Bragg, 2020 BCSC 337 (CanLII). There, the plaintiff made a claim against a number of defendants for damages relating to a lost business opportunity.
Correspondence between one of the defendants and their lawyer was shared with another defendant. If these documents contained legal advice, they would remain privileged in the hands of all of the defendants. The court reviewed the documents to determine whether they contained legal advice as not all documents from a lawyer are subject to privilege.
As an example of the application of the claim of privilege, the court ordered the production of minutes of a meeting between the defendants relating to discussions of the business opportunity, as these were not privileged, but refused to order production of the minutes relating to discussions of the defence to the litigation.
Thank you for reading.
I recently read an interesting article by Helene Love titled “Seniors on the Stand: Accommodating Older Witnesses in Adversarial Trials”, that explored the intersection of age and its effects on witness testimony in trials. Helene’s article considers whether the legal and procedural rules that have been developed to ensure that only the most reliable evidence is used in a trial may disproportionately be excluding evidence from seniors. The paper assessed the risks associated with aging, as well as the practical and legal issues related to aging witnesses, and offered suggestions to accommodate senior witnesses within our current legal framework. I will summarize some of the key considerations below.
The objective of a trial is to discover the truth. Examinations of witnesses under oath allow the trier of fact to test the reliability of witnesses, making examinations during trial a fundamental aspect of the modern day trial. Interestingly, the basis for requiring live testimony of witnesses dates back to the 16th and 17th century trials by jury, whereby jurors were not prevented from relying on untrustworthy sources of information, and abuses of power were common. In order to enhance the reliability of trials and control the quality of evidence, judges created the requirement for witnesses to provide evidence in person. The reliability of a witness is typically assessed by a judge based on a witness’s ability to observe, recall, and then recount and event in the courtroom.
Reports indicate that within the next 20 years, the number of Canadians aged 65 years or older will double, meaning that there will be more senior citizens involved in the justice system. Given the significant increase in older persons acting as witnesses, there are a number of ways that aging can impact a witness’s ability to provide evidence during a trial.
Some of the risks associated with aging include:
- Attrition – depending on the complexity of a case, it can take months or even years to finally reach a trial date, meaning that there are increased chances that an older witness, particularly those over 80 years old, have an increased chance of dying before having a chance to take the witness stand.
- Changes to the Sensory Organs and the Brain with Age – biological changes to sensory organs and the brain can result in a decrease in perceptual acuity and gaps in memory.
- Mobility Issues – Health Canada reports that by age 75, 29% of men and 38% of women report at least one physical limitation, making it more difficult to attend court in person, particularly if that appearance is extended over a period of time.
- Strokes and Dementia – Individuals aged over 65 are ten times more likely to have a stroke, and individuals who have had a stroke are more than twice as likely to develop dementia. Dementia can involve a range of symptoms, including physical limitations such as limb stiffness to the most commonly known type of dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease. Individuals with cognitive impairments would not be competent to testify in a trial.
This begs the question, how can the legal system accommodate senior witnesses while maintaining accuracy and reliability as top priorities in the pursuit of the truth? I will address some of the main solutions proposed in the civil context (although there were a number of great alternatives proposed in the criminal context that I encourage you to read).
- Expedited trial scheduling or proceeding by way of summary trial. Although not discussed in this article, another possibility in Ontario may be to request a case management judge who can determine whether the case should be heard in an expedited manner.
- Obtain witness evidence at an earlier point in time through discoveries, pre-trial examinations, or affidavit evidence to be relied on at a later date.
- Use the principled approach to hearsay. The rule against hearsay states that earlier statements made by others outside of court are presumptively inadmissible because they were not made under oath, in the presence of the trier of fact and/or tested by cross examination. However, hearsay statements can be admitted for their truth if they are sufficiently necessary and reliable, as outlined in the leading Supreme Court of Canada case of R v Khelawon, 2006 SCC 57
Thanks for reading!
 In the 1692 Salem Witch Trials, 14 women and 6 men were executed on charges of witchcraft based entirely on supernatural visions that indicated the presence of witchcraft, the reliability of which went untested during the trial.
For a will in Ontario to be valid, it must meet the statutory requirements for due execution as outlined in section 4(1) of the Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA”). In some cases, however, determining whether these requirements have been met is not always clear-cut. Bayford v. Boese, 2019 ONSC 5663 provides such an example.
In this case, the testator, Bruce Boese (“Bruce”), died in June of 2015. Bruce was the sole owner of a farm he inherited from his parents. He never married and did not have any children. For the past two decades prior to Bruce’s death, his friend, Brenda Bayford (“Brenda”), assisted him with the operation of the farm.
Throughout his lifetime, Bruce executed two wills: one in 1992 and another in 2013. Under the 1992 will, Bruce named his parents as his sole beneficiaries. However, since both of Bruce’s parents had pre-deceased him, his estate would pass on an intestacy to his siblings, with Brian and Rhonda each inheriting 50%. Under the 2013 will, the farm property was to be transferred to Brenda, with the residue being equally divided amongst four children of Bruce’s two siblings. Interestingly, the 2013 will had the word “DRAFT” stamped on every page. Also, there were two versions of the 2013 will: “Version 1” and “Version 2”. Version 1 contained Bruce’s signature but did not contain the signatures of any witnesses. Version 2 contained Bruce’s signatures and the signature of two witnesses, Sophie Gordon (“Sophie”) and Colleen Desarmia (“Colleen”).
After Bruce’s death, Brenda found Version 1 of the will. She brought it to the office of Bruce’s lawyer as she thought that the fully executed version of the will would be there. It was not. Shortly after, Colleen informed Brenda of the existence of Version 2. Upon hearing this, Brenda did a further search and found Version 2.
Brian asserted that the 2013 will did not comply with section 4(1) of the SLRA. His theory was that upon finding Version 1 of the will, Brenda colluded with the two witnesses to procure the 2013 will. In the alternative, Brian asserted that Bruce’s signature was forged on the 2013 will which the two witnesses signed.
Although Brian called an expert to give evidence with respect to Bruce’s signature on the wills, Justice Corthorn did not find the expert’s evidence to be helpful to Brian, nor did she find that it made the two witnesses less credible.
At trial, there were discrepancies between the evidence of the two witnesses with respect to the specific mechanics of Bruce signing the will and the witnessing of his signature. For example, Colleen testified that she believed that both she and Sophie remained standing while Bruce was seated at the kitchen table when he signed the 2013 Will. Sophie’s evidence was that she believed she was the only person standing and that both Bruce and Colleen were seated. Justice Corthorn noted, however, that “these inconsistencies [were] in keeping with the frailty of human memory, including […] the passage of time” and that they did not give her a reason to be concerned with the credibility of either witness.
Furthermore, based on the witnesses’ respective education and work experience, Justice Corthorn drew an inference that each of them had sufficient experience in completing paperwork to know that a witness to a document signs after the document is signed by the principal signatory.
Taking this into consideration, Justice Corthorn concluded that Bruce’s 2013 will was executed in accordance with s. 4(1) of the SLRA and that it was therefore valid.
While Bayford v Boese provides many noteworthy take-aways, perhaps the main one is the importance of ensuring that a will is properly executed, and that it is stored in a safe and easily accessible place that the testator’s lawyer and estate trustee(s) are aware of. Had this happened, the case could have been avoided altogether.
Thanks for reading!
Ian Hull and Celine Dookie
Are you an estate trustee? Is the estate being sued? Are there no, or insufficient, assets left in the estate to satisfy any judgment that may be obtained? Then plene administravit (or plene administravit praeter) is the doctrine for you!
Plene administravit is Latin for “fully administered”. It is pleaded where there are no assets remaining in the estate to satisfy any judgment and costs award that may be obtained. Plene administravit praetor means “fully administered except”, and is pleaded when there are some but insufficient assets in the estate to satisfy any judgment and costs.
Failure to plead plene administravit could lead to personal liability on the part of the estate trustee for the claim. As stated in Commander Leasing Corp. Ltd. v. Aiyede (1983) CanLII 1649 (ON CA):
It has long been established that if an executor or administrator has no assets to satisfy the debt upon which an action is brought, in the absence of a plea of no assets or plene administravit, he will be taken to have conclusively admitted that he has assets to satisfy the judgment and will be personally liable for the debt and costs if they cannot be levied on the assets of the deceased. If the executor has some, but insufficient, assets to satisfy the judgment and costs, a plea of plene administravit praetor will render him liable only to the amount of assets proved to be in his hands as executor”.
Where the doctrine is pleaded, the burden of proof falls on the plaintiff to show that assets existed or ought to have existed in the hands of the estate trustee at the time the action was commenced.
In Commander Leasing, the estate trustee distributed the proceeds of the estate to the beneficiary (herself), with knowledge of the claim. The Court had no difficulty in finding that as the doctrine was not pleaded, the estate trustee was personally liable for the judgment.
In Commander Leasing, the Court of Appeal also discussed the companion doctrine of devistavit. Devistavit, or a wasting of assets, is defined to be “mismanagement of the estate and effects of the deceased, in squandering or misapplying the assets contrary to the duty imposed on them, for which the executors or administrators must answer out of their own pockets, as far as they had, or might have had, assets of the deceased.” In Commander Leasing, the court found that in distributing the estate the estate trustee breached her duty as estate trustee, rendering her personally liable.
However, all is not lost if the estate trustee fails to plead plene administravit. In Brummund v. Baumeister Estate, 2000 CanLii 16988 (ON CA), the Court of Appeal upheld a trial judge’s decision to allow the defendant to amend the defence at trial to plead the doctrine. The Court of Appeal held that the plaintiff was not prejudiced by the amendment, as the facts underlying the application of the doctrine were fully canvassed at trial.
Have a great, plenus weekend.
Once a donor has agreed to donate funds to a charitable institution, are they entitled to have any input as to how those funds are spent? Does that donor have any recourse if their funds are not being spent the way they envisioned? Faas v. CAMH, 2018 ONSC 3386, 2019 ONCA 192 provides some insight regarding these questions.
At the direction of its principal, Andrew Faas, the Faas Foundation agreed to donate $1 million to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and its fundraising arm (collectively “CAMH”). The funds were to establish a mental health program entitled “Well@Work”. Accordingly, Mr. Faas’ payments were to be made in installments of $333,000 each year for the next three years.
Mr. Faas signed a Donor Investment Agreement (the “DIA”) which outlined a proposal for the program. The DIA also provided that an annual status report was to be provided to Mr. Faas. Nearly one year into the development of the program, Mr. Faas informed CAMH that he was not satisfied with the program’s progress, the extent of reporting or the expenditure of the donation. The parties reached an impasse with regards to these matters and Mr. Faas refrained from making the remaining two payments. He also requested that CAMH forward any money not spent on the first installment to another Canadian agency. However, all of the money for the first year had already been spent by CAMH on the development of the program.
In response, Mr. Faas commenced an application based on section 6 of the Charities Accounting Act which provides:
(1) Any person may complain as to the manner in which a person or organization has solicited or procured funds by way of contribution or gift from the public for any purpose, or as to the manner in which any such funds have been dealt with or disposed of.
. . .
(3) Wherever the judge is of opinion that the public interest can be served by an investigation of the matter complained of, he or she may make an order directing the Public Guardian and Trustee to make such investigation as the Public Guardian and Trustee considers proper in the circumstances.
The Ontario Superior Court of Justice found that there were no grounds on which to order the Public Guardian and Trustee (the “PGT”) to conduct an investigation because there was no identifiable public interest. Furthermore, no mischief was identified and nothing in the records indicated that CAMH had mismanaged the funds.
Justice Morgan stated that inquiries under the Charities Accounting Act should not be initiated lightly and that they should not “simply be for the sake of meddling.” They must only be invoked when real mischief to the public at large exists.
Mr. Faas’ complaint was not that CAMH had failed to use the donation for their own charitable objectives but that they did not use their donation in a manner that conformed to Mr. Faas’ personal vision. This did not go against public interest, but rather a private one.
The Ontario Court of Appeal agreed with the decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice and dismissed the appeal.
Faas v. CAMH emphasizes that while an unsatisfied donor does have a potential recourse of asking the PGT to conduct an investigation under the Charities Accounting Act as to how their funds were spent, an investigation will not be initiated without some evidence of mismanagement. As such, once a donor has agreed to make a donation, and as long as the charitable organization is not mismanaging the funds, the donor cannot retract their donation simply because the organization is not strictly adhering to the donor’s vision.
Thanks for reading!
Ian Hull and Celine Dookie