B.C. – BCCA goes deep and wide on partial stays – #838

Davidson v. Lyra Growth Partners Inc., 2024 BCCA 133 concerns whether there is jurisdiction under s. 7 of the Arbitration Act, S.B.C. 2020, c. 2 (“Arbitration Act”) to grant a partial stay of court proceedings concerning only those matters arguably agreed to be arbitrated by the parties or whether a court is required to stay the entire action.  The Court confirmed that partial stays are available under the Arbitration Act where the court action raises some non-arbitrable matters despite there being no express language permitting non-arbitrable matters to proceed in Court – unlike other provincial legislation. It set out factors that should be considered by a court of first instance in determining whether to grant a partial stay or a complete stay. It also emphasized, however, that a stay of those matters arguably agreed to be arbitrated is mandatory if the requirements of s. 7 are met. In this case it had been argued that a stay could be refused as the “essential nature” or “pith and substance” of the court proceedings related to matters not covered by the arbitration agreement. The Court confirmed that there is no “residual” jurisdiction to deny a stay on that basis. This decision aligns with the Supreme Court of Canada’s guidance in TELUS Communications Inc. v Wellman, 2019 SCC 19 (“Wellman”) concerning the mandatory nature of stays of court proceedings that relate to any matter arguably reserved for arbitration.

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Ontario – Court can hear set aside despite NY forum selection clause – #837

In Tehama Group Inc v Pythian Services Inc, 2024 ONSC 1819, the Court declined to stay an application to set aside an arbitration award. The stay application was based on a forum selection clause in favour of the courts of New York. In denying the stay, the Ontario court applied an exception in that forum selection clause regarding certain types of disputes under the parties’ agreement that were to be referred to arbitration. The key issue in the case concerned establishing the “place” of the arbitration, which had not been expressly set out by the parties or determined by the arbitrator. Applying the International Commercial Arbitration Act, RSO 1990, c I.9 (“ICAA”) and  UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration (“Model Law“) the Court determined that Toronto, Ontario, was the place of arbitration and that the Ontario Superior Court of Justice was therefore the only competent forum to decide the set-aside application. 

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Ontario – Parties share responsibility to keep arbitration moving – #835

In Bank-Strox Renovation Inc. v. Lugano View Limited, (“Bank-Strox”) the Court dismissed the defendant’s motion to dismiss a construction lien action for delay where the had parties agreed to have their dispute resolved by arbitration. As a reminder of the sharp distinction between litigation and arbitration, the Court held that a respondent in an arbitration has the same, or in some circumstances a greater, contractual obligation to keep the arbitration moving as the claimant. Simply sitting back and doing nothing is not a basis to later seek dismissal of the claim for delay. That might work in a court case but it won’t where the parties have agreed to move their dispute to arbitration.

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B.C. – Consumer protection claim survives stay application through last-minute amendment – #830

Polanski v Vancouver Career College (Burnaby) Inc. concerns a defendant’s stay application brought under s. 7 of the Arbitration Act, SBC 2020, c 2 (“Arbitration Act”). The Court dismissed the application to stay certain claims made under s. 172 of the British Columbia Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act (“BPCPA”). The Court, relying on various appellate cases, held that s. 172 restricted the parties’ ability to agree to arbitrate and that the policy objectives of s. 172 would not be served by private and confidential arbitration. Why did the court need to re-articulate this well-established principle? Perhaps because the defendant needed to pivot after it had initially brought the application in response to the plaintiffs’ changing positions. The plaintiffs only added the s. 172 claims in the face of the stay motion and then only consented to the stay of the remainder of their claims for damages, including under s. 171 of the BPCPA, at the hearing of the application – no doubt, to the dismay of defence counsel who were facing a moving target. (A brief refresher for those in need it: s. 172 provides for private enforcement of consumer protection claims in the public interest, while s. 171 provides for  a private remedy for damages or loss.)

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B.C. – Stay in favour of non-party to arbitration agreement in multi-party construction dispute – #828

In Vancouver Pile Driving Ltd. v. JGC Constructors BC Ltd., 2024 BCSC 344, the Court granted two applications to stay litigation arising out of a large multi-party construction dispute in favour of arbitration.  The first Applicant was a contractor which had a subcontract with the Plaintiff that provided for mandatory arbitration, unless the dispute involved the owner or other project participants.  The second Applicant was the owner, a non-party to the subcontract, which argued that if the litigation was stayed against the contractor, it should be stayed against the owner as well.  The Court applied section 8 of the International Commercial Arbitration Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 233 (“ICAA”) to stay the proceedings against the first Applicant.  The Court also stayed the action against the second Applicant owner pursuant to section 10 of the Law and Equity Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 253 to prevent a multiplicity of proceedings.

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Québec – No stay of arbitration without exceptional circumstances – #826

In McLaren Automotive Incorporated v. 9727272 Canada inc., 2024 QCCS 389, the Superior Court dismissed the application of McLaren Automotive Incorporated (“Applicant”) to stay the arbitration until the Superior Court had ruled on the merits of its applications: (1) to homologate the Arbitrator’s award concluding that he had no jurisdiction to act; and (2) to annul the arbitration appeal panel’s decision to overturn the arbitrator’s award on its own jurisdiction. The Judge reviewed the applicable criteria for a stay of the arbitration He concluded that exceptional circumstances are required to obtain a stay because of the respect that Courts must show toward arbitration agreements and the principle of limited interventions that the Court must follow in arbitrations. The Judge ruled that no such exceptional circumstances were demonstrated by the Applicant in the present case.  But the case is worth watching. The institutional rules under which the arbitration proceeded allowed for an appeal to a panel of arbitrators. The issue will be whether the appeal is permitted in Québec where, pursuant to section 648 CCP “an arbitration award may only be challenged by way of an application for annulment”.  There is no appeal right.

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Alberta – A potential expansion of the exceptions to the competence-competence principle? – #823

In Orica Canada Inc v ARVOS GmbH, 2024 ABKB 97, the Court applied, and possibly expanded, the exception to the competence-competence principle that allows a Court to resolve a jurisdictional claim if there is a real prospect that referring the issue to arbitration would mean that it is never resolved. The Court also determined that, in an action between two parties without an arbitration agreement, where the defendant raises claims against a third party subject to an arbitration agreement, those third party claims cannot be included in the action and must be determined by arbitration, even if they are related to the issues between the plaintiff and defendant in the main action. However, any third party claims that are not subject to the arbitration agreement can proceed in the action.

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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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Manitoba – Court of Appeal quashes appeal of decision declaring clause invalid – #816

In Pokornik v. SkipTheDishes Restaurant Services Inc., 2024 MBCA 3, the Court dealt with a perennial issue—stays of arbitration in the class proceeding context. The decision has a few interesting takeaways, both arbitration-related and not, including one about the competence-competence principle. It also raises the thorny issue of when a stay motion decision may be appealed under section 7(6) of Manitoba’s domestic arbitration statute.

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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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