Lisa’s 2022 Hot Topic #1: Arbitrator resignation – the when, how, and what next? – #696

Although there is provision in most provincial domestic arbitration legislation and the Model Law for the resignation of the arbitrator, there is little guidance on when the arbitrator may do so and the potential consequences once that occurs. However, two cases released in 2022 are helpful in that they suggest: (1) potential limitations on the discretion of an arbitrator to resign, regardless of the rights contained in the legislation; and (2) how the parties many anticipate this issue and provide for it in their arbitration agreement if it is important, so as to minimize the inevitable disruption that arises when an arbitrator resigns.

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Ontario – Leave to appeal award application and appeal dismissed together – #692

In The Tire Pit Inc. v Augend 6285 Yonge Village Properties Ltd., 2022 ONSC 6763, Justice Vermette dismissed an application for leave to appeal an award and the appeal itself. The grounds of appeal did not raise questions of law which were subject to appeal pursuant to subsection 45(1) of the Arbitration Act, 1991, S.O. 1991, c. 17 (“Act”) and had no importance beyond the parties. In any event, if she was wrong, she found that they lacked merit.

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Ontario – Arbitrator no jurisdiction to hear challenge for bias after partial final award – #691

In Aroma Franchise Company, Inc. v Aroma Espresso Bar Canada Inc., 2022 ONSC 6188, Justice Cavanagh dismissed the Respondents’ motion to stay or dismiss an application to set aside a final award on the merits on the ground of the reasonable apprehension of bias of the Arbitrator. The Respondents argued that the Applicant was required to bring its challenge to the Arbitrator first in accordance with Article 13 of the Model Law because the arbitration had not yet terminated; interest and costs had yet to be determined. However, Justice Cavanagh found that the Arbitrator was functus officio. Therefore, the application was properly before the Court.

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Supreme Court – Peace River v Petrowest Part 2: no conflict between arbitration, bankruptcy law – #687

In Peace River Hydro Partners v Petrowest, 2022 SCC 41, the central issue was whether a receiver/trustee in bankruptcy may disclaim the arbitration clause in a contract and sue in the courts when it seeks to enforce the debtor’s contractual rights against third parties. The case concerned the tension between the court’s supervisory power over all proceedings brought by a receiver/trustee under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (BIA) RSC 1985, c. B-3, and party autonomy to contract out of the courts. Section 15 of the British Columbia (former) Arbitration Act, RSBC 1996 c. 55 required a stay of proceedings where a party to an arbitration agreement has commenced a court proceeding in respect of a matter to be submitted to arbitration, unless the arbitration agreement is “void, inoperative, or incapable of being performed”. The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the stay application of the defendant sued by the receiver/trustee, but split 5-4 on the reasons. The majority found that the arbitration clauses at issue were “inoperative” because enforcing them would compromise the orderly and efficient resolution of the receivership. This authority arises from the statutory jurisdiction conferred on provincial superior courts under ss. 243(1) and 183(1) of the BIA. It found that this interpretation of the stay provision ensures that provincial arbitration legislation and federal bankruptcy legislation are not in conflict. The minority found that the specific language of the “template” Receivership Order authorized the Receiver/Trustee to disclaim the arbitration agreements, rendering them inoperative.

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Supreme Court – Peace River v Petrowest Part 1: Separability Clarified? – #682

Most of the commentary about the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision of Peace River Hydro Partners v Petrowest, 2022 SCC 41, is about the interplay between arbitration law and bankruptcy/insolvency law – and my next Case Note will address that issue. However, perhaps a more important issue for arbitration law was the Court’s consideration of the doctrine of separability (although it was not relevant to the outcome). The scope of its application in Canada was uncertain following the 2020 decisions of the British Columbia Court of Appeal under appeal, Petrowest Corporation v Peace River Hydro Partners, 2020 BCCA 339, and the Supreme Court of Canada in Uber Technologies Inc. v Heller, 2020 SCC 16 (“Uber”). 

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