The Ontario Court of Appeal recently addressed an appeal that was scheduled to be heard on April 16, 2020 which had to be adjourned sine die due to COVID-19. The full decision of 4352238 Canada Inc v SNC-Lavalin Group Inc, 2020 ONCA 303 can be found here.
During a case management conference before Justice L.B. Roberts, which was scheduled to determine how this matter was to proceed, the Appellant objected to the appeal proceeding in writing, as suggested by the Respondents. The argument that the Appellant relied on was that the Court would not have jurisdiction to hear an appeal in writing over a party’s objection. The Court disagreed.
In making such a decision, the Court confirmed as follows:
- The Court Has Jurisdiction to Order a Civil Appeal Heard in Writing
- The Appellant’s argument that the Court has limited supervisory jurisdiction over its own process, restricted to governing administrative details was rejected. The Court held that it is well settled that its implicit or ancillary jurisdiction to manage its own process is broad. Case law was cited to support the Court’s position that it has “the jurisdiction to make any procedural order to prevent an abuse of process or to ensure the just and efficient administration of justice”.
- The Court’s implicit powers include those that are “reasonably necessary” to accomplish the Court’s mandate and perform its intended function which arise by necessary implication even where there is no express statutory or common law authority to that effect.
- The Courts of Justice Act and the Rules of Civil Procedure do not mandate the absolute right to an oral hearing of an appeal.
- COVID-19 has created extraordinary circumstances to which all must adapt as best as possible.
- This Appeal Should Proceed in Writing
- This matter arises as a result of the dismissal of an application for narrow declaratory relief which proceeded on a paper record. It concerns the interpretation of a clause in a contract within the context of relatively straightforward facts.
- Further submissions are not foreclosed in that, if necessary, the panel has the option to seek further oral and written submissions.
- There is no prejudice or unfairness to the Appellant by proceeding in writing but the potential prejudice to the Respondents by any further delay and the unnecessary strain on the Court system is evident.
It has been some time now that the judicial system highlighted the importance of written advocacy. Certainly, advocates today are aware of how important it is to their client’s case, regardless of whether an oral hearing takes place, at the end of the day.
What this recent decision suggests now is that the importance of written advocacy is further elevated because during these difficult times and given the limitations imposed by COVID-19, your client’s written position may very well be their “day in Court”.
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The recent decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal in Laski v. BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc., 2020 ONCA 300 (CanLII) demonstrates the accommodations that will be given to parties in advancing a proceeding, and the limits to that accommodation. It demonstrates that while the courts will be generous to parties requesting adjournments, that generosity will only go so far.
There, the Plaintiff was proceeding with a claim against BMO Nesbitt Burns with respect to their involvement in the setting up of a joint account. The Plaintiff had alleged that the setting up of the joint account was fraudulent. He had already lost his claim against the joint account holder. The court hearing that proceeding found that the joint account passed to the joint account holder by right of survivorship. The Plaintiff sought to continue his claim against BMO. BMO moved to strike this claim.
The matter proceeded on April 23, 2019. The Plaintiff did not appear, but had emailed opposing counsel shortly before the hearing to advise that he was only released from the hospital on April 18, 2019, and could not attend. The motions judge treated the email as a request for an adjournment. The request was denied, and the motion proceeded in the Plaintiff’s absence. The Plaintiff’s claim was dismissed.
The April 2019 adjournment request was not the first adjournment request. The proceeding had a long history. On April 2018, a judge set a return date of September 19, 2018, and dates for filing materials. On September 18, 2019, an adjournment was granted to February 11, 2019, peremptory to the Plaintiff, and revised dates for the delivery of materials were set. The adjournment was at the request of the Plaintiff and the Respondent did not object.
On January 28, 2019, the Plaintiff, a lawyer representing himself, filed a medical note saying that he was unable to work for six months. The motion was adjourned to April 23, 2019. The judge endorsed the record stating that no further adjournments would be granted unless the Plaintiff provided more specific information regarding his health limitations from a qualified doctor.
No materials were ever delivered by the Plaintiff.
The Plaintiff’s claim was dismissed in his absence on April 23, 2019. The Plaintiff appealed.
In dismissing the appeal, the Court of Appeal noted that adjournments would be granted where it was “in the interests of justice”. The judge has broad discretion, and appellate intervention is limited. The Court also noted that the Plaintiff was already granted two adjournments and had failed to comply with previous orders requiring that he file materials and file a medical note if a further adjournment was being sought. Further, while the Plaintiff filed additional medical evidence on the appeal, there was no motion brought to allow the “fresh evidence”. In any event, the further evidence did not explain why responding materials were not filed as required.
An appeal on the merits was also dismissed.
In the context of adjournments, the court will usually grant an adjournment if the there is a good, substantiated reason for the adjournment, and no injustice will result from the delay. Opposing parties know this, and usually act accordingly. (In this case, the first adjournment request was unopposed.) However, the party seeking the adjournment should put strong evidence supporting the request before the court. Additionally, the requestor should not be in default of any other orders of the court without a good reason.
See also, Suzana Popovic-Montag and Devin McMurtry’s blog on adjournments in estate litigation, here.
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P.S. And now for something completely different, check out this remarkable obituary.
Last night, I attended an advance screening of RBG, a documentary focusing on the career of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a current Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Justice Ginsburg is a long-time social rights activist and advocate well known for her work in promoting gender equality on both sides of the bench.
More recently, Justice Ginsburg has gained notoriety for frequent dissenting opinions within the context of a primarily conservative judiciary. While a dissent is, by definition, “a disagreement with [the] majority decision” (Black’s Law Dictionary) that becomes law, one should not underestimate the value of a strong dissent over time.
At provincial appellate courts in Canada, a strong dissent may be of great assistance in preparing an application seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court, as well as at the appeal stage if leave is granted. Dissenting opinions of the Supreme Court of Canada have been referred to as the voice of the future, with prophetic potential.
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Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada granted leave to appeal the judgment of the Federal Court of Appeal in the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration v Alexander Vavilov, and announced that this appeal will be heard along with the appeals of two other judicial review matters.
The Vavilov appeal concerns the decision of the Registrar of citizenship to revoke the status of a Canadian on the basis that his parents were not lawful Canadian citizens or permanent residents at the time of his birth. Though Canadian citizens, the man’s parents had been undercover spies and, under the provisions of the Citizenship Act, were considered to be “employees or representatives of a foreign government”, rather than lawful citizens of Canada whose son would be Canadian by virtue of their citizenship and the place of his birth alone. The man’s application for judicial review of the decision of the Registrar to cancel his citizenship was initially dismissed by the Federal Court on the basis that the relevant section of the Citizenship Act did not limit the meaning of representatives or employees of foreign governments. The Federal Court of Appeal reversed this decision, concluding that the decision of the Registrar was unreasonable and that the purpose of the section of the Citizenship Act in dispute was to apply only in respect of representatives of foreign governments who enjoy diplomatic immunities or other privileges.
While it is rare for the Supreme Court to release reasons granting or refusing leave to appeal beyond one sentence, the Court’s recent judgment granting leave to appeal elaborates as follows:
The Court is of the view that these appeals provide an opportunity to consider the nature and scope of judicial review of administrative action, as addressed in Dunsmuir v. New Brunswick,  1 S.C.R. 190, 2008 SCC 9, and subsequent cases. To that end, the appellant and respondent are invited to devote a substantial part of their written and oral submissions on the appeal to the question of standard of review, and shall be allowed to file and serve a factum on appeal of at most 45 pages.
Matters of judicial review are generally unrelated to estates law. However, members of our firm have assisted clients with applications for judicial review involving estate-related issues and we can appreciate the value of the clarification of the state of the law involving standards of review that may come from the Supreme Court’s reconsideration of these principles.
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Other blog entries that you might enjoy reading:
- Leave to Appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada
- Everything Your Ever Wanted to Know About the Supreme Court of Canada