B.C. – Reasons for granting anti-suit injunction to prevent arbitration different than litigation – #818

In Axion Ventures Inc. v Bonner, 2024 BCSC 45 (“Axion”), the Court addressed a British Columbia application for anti-suit injunctions to prevent the respondents from proceeding with a Washington State lawsuit and an arbitration seated in Thailand. Axion is a skirmish in the ongoing war over the ownership and control of Axion Ventures Inc. and Axion Interactive (the two applicants in this case) and their assets and those of their subsidiary and related entities in other jurisdictions around the world. The applicants were both plaintiffs and defendants in litigation already underway in BC. For reasons described below the Court ultimately adjourned the anti-suit injunction applications. However, it recognized a distinction between anti-suit injunctions sought in respect of foreign court actions and those sought in respect of commercial arbitrations; namely, that the latter do not engage principles of comity. And of particular interest to BC counsel, the Court suggested there is no absolute rule in BC that an anti-suit can only be sought after a stay application is brought in the foreign proceeding.

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Ontario – Crypto Trading Platform Arbitration Agreement Found Unenforceable – #814

In Lochan v. Binance Holdings Limited, 2023 ONSC 6714, the Court refused to stay a proposed class action against the defendant cryptocurrency trading platform in favour of arbitration. The underlying claim concerns allegations that the defendant sold cryptocurrency derivatives without filing a prospectus, contrary to Ontario’s securities laws. The Court held that the arbitration agreement, embedded in the defendant’s website terms and conditions, was both unconscionable and contrary to public policy – based on the cost of the arbitration contemplated by the agreement and based on the clause’s complexity and lack of transparency. The Court’s overarching concern was that the arbitration provisions were not fair to platform users. The Court also provided a helpful difference between unconscionability and a violation of public policy. 

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Chris Reflects (2023): Arbitrator Bias and the Unanimous Award – #807

When will a court confirm a unanimous arbitral award issued by a three-person panel where one of those arbitrators was biased? This case note reviews three cases that try to answer that question. In each, the Court applied the Model Law. In one recent casethe Ontario Superior Court of Justice upheld the award, finding that the bias did not cause actual prejudice. The other two cases, one from India, the other from Germany, reached the opposite conclusion, highlighting the pernicious, and often unseen, effect that bias can have on the deliberative process.  

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Lisa Reflects (2023): Aroma – the blockbuster case of 2023? – #804

Aroma Franchise Company Inc. et al. v Aroma Espresso Bar Canada Inc., 2023 ONSC 1827 was the case I think created the biggest “buzz” in 2023, likely because it was the only Canadian case (of which I am aware) that has addressed the gnarly issue of arbitrator disclosure obligations in circumstances in which the arbitrator has taken on multiple appointments at the same time, a situation in which the IBA Guidelines on Conflict of Interest in International Arbitration provides little, well, guidance. I reported on this decision in an earlier case note: Ontario – Multiple arbitral appointments give rise to reasonable apprehension of bias – #734 – Arbitration Matters. Since then, the case has continued to generate interest and commentary, which has kept me thinking about it. The Ontario Court of Appeal heard the appeal on December 6, 2023.

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Ontario – No unfairness despite Browne v Dunn violation and arbitrator reasonable apprehension of bias – #796

In Vento Motorcycles, Inc. v. United Mexican States, 2023 ONSC 5964, the Court dismissed an application to set aside an investor-state arbitration award on the grounds that the arbitral tribunal denied procedural fairness, and that one of the tribunal members was biased. Although the Court found no unfairness, it acknowledged a reasonable apprehension of bias in respect of the impugned arbitrator. The Court nonetheless exercised its discretion under art. 34 of the Model Law to dismiss the set–aside application.

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International – Deliberation-related documents need not be produced, despite strong dissent – #766

In CZT v CZU, 2023 SGHCI 11, the Singapore International Commercial Court refused to order the arbitral tribunal to disclose deliberation-related documents in the context of a set-aside application under Article 34 of the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration (“Model Law”) despite the dissenting arbitrator’s statement that he had “lost any and all trust in the impartiality of [his] fellow arbitrators.” The applicant relied upon Article 34(2), alleging that the majority had breached the rules of natural justice, had exceeded the terms or scope of the submission to arbitration, that the arbitral procedure was not in accordance with the parties’ agreement, and that the award conflicted with Singapore public policy. For the reasons set out below, this case has relevance to Canadian international arbitration practice.

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Ontario – Courts must decide arbitral jurisdiction de novo  – #748

In Russian Federation v. Luxtona Limited, 2023 ONCA 393, the Ontario Court of Appeal held that in an application to Ontario courts under the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration (the “Model Law”), being Schedule 2 to the International Commercial Arbitration Act, 2017, c. 2, Sched. 5, for the court to decide whether an arbitral tribunal had jurisdiction, the court must decide the jurisdictional question de novo. In other words, there is no deference owed to the arbitral tribunal on the question of that tribunal’s jurisdiction. The Court reached this conclusion after considering the strong international consensus to that effect, and reaffirmed the “uniformity principle”, which holds that it is “strongly desirable” for Ontario’s international arbitration regime to be interpreted coherently with that of other countries. 

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Ontario – No hearing de novo in case of challenge to procedural fairness – #742

In All Communications Networks of Canada v. Planet Energy Corp., 2023 ONCA 319, the Court dismissed the appeal of a judgment upholding an arbitral award in favour of Respondent All Communications Networks of Canada (“ACN”) in the amount of $29,259,787 and made an order enforcing the award. In first instance, Planet Energy Corp. (“Planet”) sought to set aside the arbitral award based on the failure of due process, arguing: (1) that it was not given the opportunity to present its case; and (2) that the Arbitrator’s ruling violated public policy. Before the Court of Appeal, Appellant Planet raised the additional argument that the first instance judge failed to apply the right standard of review. Planet argued that a de novo hearing was required to examine properly the arguments raised against the arbitral award. The Court of Appeal dismissed Planet’s arguments and confirmed that a party seeking to set aside an arbitral award based on a failure of due process must prove that the Arbitrator’s conduct is serious enough to dismiss the application to enforce the award under the law of the enforcing State (here, Ontario). The Court of Appeal also confirmed that a party seeking to set aside an award based on a violation of public policy shall demonstrate that the award offends Ontario’s principles of justice and fairness in a fundamental way.

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Ontario – Peace River “arguable case” standard applies to ICAA stay motion – #739

Husky Food Importers & Distributors Ltd v JH Whittaker & Sons Limited and Star Marketing Ltd, 2023 ONCA 260 addresses the standard of proof that a party seeking a stay of proceedings under s. 9 of the International Commercial Arbitration Act, 2017, S.O. 2017, c. 2, Sch. 5 (“ICAA”) must meet in order to establish the existence of an arbitration agreement that grounds the stay of proceedings. The Court of Appeal found that Peace River Hydro Partners v Petrowest Corp, 2022 SCC 41 supersedes the stay analysis articulated in Haas v. Gunasekaram, 2016 ONCA 744.

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Ontario – Multiple arbitral appointments give rise to reasonable apprehension of bias – #734

In Aroma Franchise Company Inc. et al. v Aroma Espresso Bar Canada Inc. et al., 2023 ONSC 1827, Justice Steele set aside two international awards (on the merits and as to costs and interest) arising out of a franchise dispute on the basis of a reasonable apprehension of bias on the part of the Arbitrator for failure to disclose that during the arbitration he had been appointed by counsel for one of the parties to serve as sole arbitrator on another matter even though it did not involve a franchise dispute and was in a different industry.

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