The Third Party Litigation Funding Law Review: Canada
Third party funding (TPF) has been embraced into the mainstream of Canadian litigation, including in terms of the types of parties using litigation funding, the scenarios in which parties rely upon litigation funding and the perspectives expressed by courts and lawmakers. Whereas Canadian law previously imposed strict limits on the opportunity to fund litigation, it has evolved to provide greater scope and flexibility for these arrangements. As discussed in greater detail below, the law has confirmed the suitability of TPF in the context of class proceedings, bankruptcy proceedings and single-party commercial litigation, subject to certain requirements. As a result, the opportunities in the Canadian market for TPF are increasing.
International funders have taken note. The (recent) case law refers to a number of international litigation funders, including an Irish funder, Claims Funding International, British funders, Redress and Harbour, an American funder, Galactic TH Litigation Funders LC, and an Australian funder, Omni Bridgeway (formerly known as Bentham IMF), which was the first to open a Canadian office, in 2016, and expanded to Quebec (Canada's only civil law jurisdiction) in 2018. Augusta Ventures and Woodsford have since followed with offices in Canada. Underscoring the growth in popularity of litigation funding, as at August 2020, Omni Bridgeway's Canadian business has received over 560 applications for funding.
The development of Canadian law and the Canadian legal market for TPF has been self-reinforcing. Increased funding opportunities have resulted in greater opportunities for the Canadian courts to scrutinise third party funding agreements (TPFAs), and to develop more sophisticated rules governing them. This exposure has brought the opportunity of funding to the fore. As one class actions lawyer recently noted, contingency fees are becoming increasingly insufficient to meet the costs of litigating a matter, and law firms are increasingly concerned with the risk involved in contingency fees: 'it is now beyond the capacity of most firms to self-fund . . . they have to get funding'. Moreover, in one judgment involving a TPFA, the court noted that 'anecdotal evidence suggests that indemnity agreements became more popular than resorting to the Class Proceedings Fund'. One reason for the popularity of TPF over the Class Proceedings Fund is that the latter does not provide compensation for legal fees and covers only limited disbursements during the proceedings.
The jurisprudence regarding TPF has been typically considered in the context of class proceedings, as courts in Canadian common law jurisdictions (all provinces aside from Quebec) must approve a TPFA at the outset of the case for it to be binding on the class. At the same time, however, litigation funding for single-party commercial litigation is becoming more commonplace in Canada, as evidenced by cases such as Schenk v. Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc and Seedlings Life Science Ventures, LLC v. Pfizer Canada Inc. More recently, the varied landscape in which TPF has appeared now includes bankruptcy proceedings, as highlighted by Québec Inc v. Callidus Capital Corp (the Bluberi case), which is described in further detail below.
Legal and regulatory framework
i Maintenance and champerty
For most of the twentieth century, the legal landscape regarding TPF was overshadowed by the common law doctrines of maintenance and champerty. The Court of Appeal of Ontario described these concepts in McIntyre Estate v. Ontario (Attorney General) as follows:
[m]aintenance is directed against those who, for an improper motive, often described as wanton or officious intermeddling, become involved with disputes (litigation) of others in which the maintainer has no interest whatsoever. Champerty is an egregious form of maintenance in which there is the added element that the maintainer shares in the profits of the litigation
The concept and prohibition of champerty has long been codified in the Act Respecting Champerty RSO (1897) (the Champerty Act), which states that:
1 Champertors be they that move pleas and suits, or cause to be moved, either by their own procurement, or by others, and sue them at their proper costs, for to have part of the land in variance, or part of the gains.
2 All champertous agreements are forbidden, and invalid.
As outlined in jurisprudence and in the Champerty Act, the prohibition on maintenance and champerty is intended to discourage 'unnecessary' litigation in Canadian courts as a result of the 'officious intermeddling' of a third party. The law took a particularly dim view of an individual deriving a profit from this misconduct, so much so that champerty was criminalised in Canada until the mid-twentieth century.
Notwithstanding the prohibitions against maintenance and champerty, the concept left open the possibility of 'proper' forms of litigation support. More specifically, the courts' early analysis of the issue in Newswander v. Giegerich emphasised the concern over a maintainer (i.e., the third party that maintains the party with a direct interest in the claim) who is 'stirring up strife'. In other words, the motive of an alleged maintainer was particularly important to determine if the act was, in fact, maintenance.
Champerty in Canada is a 'subspecies' of maintenance, as there cannot be champerty without maintenance. Accordingly, the concept of champerty in Canadian law similarly invokes the concept of proper and improper motives underpinning litigation funding. In Goodman v. R, Goodman was charged with champerty after agreeing to assist an improvident claimant injured by a streetcar in exchange for a share of any proceeds. Among the key facts in that case were that (1) Goodman's assistance consisted of locating witnesses to the event and (2) the plaintiff had consulted a lawyer before Goodman became involved. In this regard, the facts of the case reflected those of Newswander: the plaintiff had already considered litigation and the contribution by Goodman was required to enable the litigation to proceed given the plaintiff's financial circumstances. The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) quashed Goodman's conviction and held that his conduct did not amount to officious intermeddling as he had not stirred up strife. More recently, the relevance of motive in an assessment of maintenance and champerty was reaffirmed in the 1993 decision of Buday v. Locator of Missing Heirs Inc (1993) and McIntyre Estate.
Following Newswander and Goodman, maintenance and champerty were removed from the Criminal Code in 1953. However, under the Champerty Act, champerty remained a tort in common law jurisdictions and has typically had the effect of acting as a shield against the enforcement of champertous agreements (rather than serving as the basis of an action for damages, as in Newswander).
The prospect of TPF in Canada was significantly enhanced in the early 2000s when helpful jurisprudence developed in the context of contingency fee arrangements and class proceedings. Most notably, in 2002, the Ontario Court of Appeal found that the interests of justice can, in fact, be served by allowing third parties to fund litigation. In McIntyre Estate v. Ontario (Attorney General), a plaintiff who intended to commence an action against Imperial Tobacco and Venturi Inc for wrongful death of her husband first sought a declaration from the Court that the contingency fee arrangement with her lawyers was not prohibited by the Champerty Act.
The Ontario Court of Appeal found that a determination of the proposed agreement as champertous depended on the outcome of the litigation. In making this finding, the Court of Appeal made the following observations:
- a person's motive is a proper consideration and, indeed, determinative of the question of whether conduct or an arrangement constitutes maintenance or champerty;
- the courts have shaped the rules relating to champerty and maintenance to accommodate changing circumstances and the current requirements for the proper administration of justice;
- whether a particular agreement is champertous is a fact-dependent determination, requiring the court to inquire into the circumstances and the terms of the agreement; and
- this fact-based inquiring depends in part on the 'reasonableness and fairness' of the agreement.
In making these findings, it was clear that the Court was aware of increasing concerns over access to justice and the potentially beneficial role of contingency fee agreements in this regard. This evolution in the priorities of the Canadian justice system necessitated a more flexible understanding of champerty and the applicability of the Champerty Act.
Shortly after McIntyre Estate, in 2004, Ontario passed Regulation 195/04 – Contingency Fee Agreements, setting out requirements of valid contingency fee arrangements between lawyers and their clients. While contingency fee agreements received specific attention in the early 2000s, to date, no similar regulation or guideline has appeared in respect of TPFAs. In this regard, the articulation and development of rules applicable to TPFAs have largely appeared in jurisprudence from the Canadian courts. However, lawmakers have become more attuned to the operations of funders in the market and this is reflected in new amendments to the Ontario Class Proceedings Act, which is discussed further in the next section.
ii Class action funding
Class proceedings have provided a fruitful area for the development of Canadian jurisprudence regarding TPFAs. In the typical class action context, neither the representative plaintiff nor class counsel is prepared pay the disbursements or risk liability for an adverse costs order if the case is unsuccessful, making a costs indemnity and disbursement funding from a third party a potentially attractive funding arrangement. Much of the law has developed around this model in the class proceedings context, as TPFAs concluded between a representative plaintiff and a TPF are subject to the requirements of judicial review and approval.
In 2009, the courts considered the legality of TPFAs in Metzler Investments GMBH v. Gildan Activewear Inc in detail. In Metzler, a representative plaintiff moved for the approval of a costs indemnification agreement entered into with an Irish company whose main business was litigation funding in Europe. Relying upon the analysis of McIntyre, the court applied the existing law on contingency fee arrangements to third party involvement in litigation. It found that case law pointed to 'two crucial elements' that constitute a champertous agreement:
- the involvement must be spurred by some improper motive; and
- the result of that involvement must enable the third party to possibly acquire some gain following the disposition of the litigation.
As a TPFA has, by its very nature, the purpose of gain for the third party following the disposition of the litigation, the first consideration was most vital to the assessment of champerty in the context of TPF. Metzler, therefore, confirmed that the principles of fairness and reasonableness, the importance of the motive underpinning the funding arrangement and the increasingly relaxed application of the Champerty Act – all of which was developed in the context of the McIntyre Estate analysis of contingency fee arrangements – could apply equally in the context of TPFAs.
A further class proceeding provided the first instance of court approval of a TPFA. In Dugal v. Manulife Financial Corp, Strathy J approved a funding agreement, under which a third party agreed, inter alia, to indemnify the plaintiffs against their exposure to the defendants' costs, in return for a 7 per cent share of the proceeds of any recovery in the litigation. The court built upon the principles articulated in McIntyre Estate and Metzler, and recognised that funding agreements had been approved in other provinces of Canada, albeit without reasons, as well as in other common law jurisdictions around the world. In accepting the role that TPFAs can play in promoting access to justice, the court approved the funding agreement in Dugal.
Since 2009, the judicial review of TPFAs between funders and representative plaintiffs in class proceedings has provided useful guidance on the law applicable to TPF. For example, the courts have provided useful commentary in the following cases:
- In Fehr v. Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada (Fehr), the court discussed the law on litigation funding and reviewed the key judgments (identified as McIntyre Estate in 2002, Metzler in 2009 and Dugal in 2011). It concluded that TPFAs are not categorically illegal on the grounds of champerty or maintenance, but a particular TPFA might be illegal as champertous or on some other basis, and that a plaintiff must obtain court approval to enter into a TPFA.
- In Labourers' Pension Fund v. Sino-Forest, the representative plaintiffs moved for approval of a funding agreement that was described by the court as being nearly identical to the one approved by Justice Strathy in Dugal. The court nevertheless identified individual key terms of the funding agreement, including the grounds of the funder's agreement to pay the plaintiffs' adverse costs orders and the terms of recovery on a settlement or judgment in favour of the plaintiffs. Upon doing so, the court approved the funding agreement.
- In Bayens v. Kinross Gold Corporation, the court noted that the 'concept of third party funding is a work in progress' and that 'courts have been left to develop the approval criteria for third party funding largely on their own initiative, relying on common sense, knowledge of the problems of access to justice and of the administration of justice, and academic commentary'. While the court did not go into the same detail regarding the terms of the funding agreement, it nevertheless approved the agreement based on principles derived from the above-mentioned cases (and particularly, Fehr, Metzler and Dugal).
- In Stanway v. Wyeth Canada Inc, the court found that litigation funding agreements may be approved in British Columbia and the lack of any reference thereto in the Class Proceedings Act did not make them unavailable in that province. It also determined that, in that case, the TPFA was subject to legal privilege on matters relating to litigation strategy, litigation budget and other 'highly sensitive' aspects.
- In Houle v. St Jude Medical Inc, the Ontario Superior Court (ONSC) provided a thorough analysis of the law regarding approval of TPFAs and specific terms contained therein. The ONSC once again confirmed that 'deciding whether to approve a [TPFA] will depend upon the particular circumstances of each case'; however, it also opined that, based on the foregoing case law, the court must be satisfied of at least four criteria to approve a TPFA: (1) the agreement must be necessary to provide access to justice; (2) the access to justice facilitated by the TPFA must be substantively meaningful; (3) the agreement must be a fair and reasonable agreement and facilitate access to justice while protecting the interests of the defendants; and (4) the third party funder must not be overcompensated for assuming the risks of an adverse costs award because this would make the agreement unfair, overreaching and champertous. In this case, the Court considered fees funding and noted that 'the novelty of the hybrid retainer that combines a partial contingency fee with a fee-for-services retainer strikes me as a positive factor . . . This approach which partially protects the financial and human capital of class counsel may expand the roster of firms prepared to assume the risks of class action litigation'. The ONSC then set out six factors in determining whether to approve a TPFA, which are summarised in the Tidd decision and listed below. On appeal, the ONSC Divisional Court seemingly confirmed the above analysis by noting that the ONSC 'applied the proper principles and provided a roadmap to the parties if they wish to proceed under the proposed type of arrangement' and upheld the decision of the ONSC.
- The law on TPF developed significantly in Quebec, Canada's only civil law jurisdiction, in 2014. In Marcotte v. Bank of Montreal, a class action against chartered banks was funded by two third parties. Like the analysis of funding arrangements in common law provinces, the Superior Court of Quebec determined that, without funding from third parties, the plaintiffs could not have pursued the case and been reimbursed fees that had been illegally collected by the financial institutions, and that funding provided a 'path to justice'.
For further examples of court consideration of TPFAs, see Schneider v. Royal Crown Gold Reserve Inc, Berg v. Canadian Hockey League, and, most recently, David v. Loblaw, JB & M Walker v. TDL Group, Drynan v. Bausch Health Companies Inc, and Tidd v. Regional Health Authority. The last two of these raised the following issues:
- In Drynan, the court considered, among other things, the wording of 'promise clauses', whereby a plaintiff promises to conduct the litigation in a certain manner, such as 'conduct the action in an way that avoids unnecessary costs' or 'follow all reasonable legal advice of counsel'. In this case, the court refused to strike or amend any of the promise clauses at issue in the relevant TPFA, although the court raised the issue that TPFAs must not effectively bind the plaintiff's hands and undermine the plaintiff's ultimate control of the litigation.
- In Tidd, the court referred to the 'six criteria as identified [in] Houle', which the courts adopt as the standard analytical framework for determining the approval of a TPFA:
- whether the procedural, technical and evidentiary requirements to enable the court to scrutinise the third party funding agreement are satisfied;
- whether the third party funding agreement is necessary to facilitate access to justice for the plaintiff and class members or to discourage wrongdoing by the defendants;
- whether the third party funder makes a meaningful contribution to access to justice or behaviour modification;
- whether the third party funding agreement is fair and reasonable to the class, does not overcompensate the funder for assuming the risks of an adverse costs award and protects the interests of the defendants;
- whether the third party funding agreement does not impair or compromise the lawyer–client relationship, the lawyers' duties of loyalty and confidentiality or the lawyers' professional judgement and carriage of the litigation on behalf of the representative plaintiffs and the class; and
- whether the third party funding agreement is not illegal on a basis other than champerty or maintenance.
In July 2020, Ontario introduced amendments to the Class Proceedings Act 2002, including various new provisions concerning TPF and requirements for the approval of TPFAs. Under the new legislative framework, which came into force in October 2020, a court will not approve a TPFA except where it is satisfied that the agreement is fair and reasonable, that the agreement does not impair the solicitor-client relationship, and that the funder will be able to satisfy adverse cost awards, to the extent it has agreed to provide an indemnity for such risks. The amended Class Proceedings Act, 2002 also allow successful defendants in class actions to recover any awarded costs directly from the unsuccessful claimant's funder.
iii Single-party commercial litigation
Despite the above jurisprudence in the class proceedings context, as at 2015, the law on TPF in Canada remained relatively underdeveloped in the context of single-party commercial litigation. However, that year, the courts took a step forward in Schenk v. Valeant (Schenk). In Schenk, the court case drew upon the jurisprudence in the class proceedings context and extended similar principles to single-party commercial litigation. Justice McEwen commented that '[t]ypically, such agreements have arisen in class proceedings. Counsel could not locate any cases in which third party funding has been extended to the context of commercial litigation. This being said, I see no reason why such funding would be inappropriate in the field of commercial litigation.' However, as with jurisprudence arising in the class proceedings context, McEwen J also commented that 'the statutory and common law prohibition on champerty and maintenance in the Province of Ontario must be considered'.
In applying this law to the facts of the particular TPFA at issue in Schenk, the ONSC declined to approve the agreement in its then current form as it constituted maintenance and champerty. This conclusion was based on the fact that, in the absence of a cap, the agreement could result in the funder recovering over 50 per cent of the proceeds and could be construed to allow 'open-ended exposure to Schenk that could result in the funder retaining the lion's share of any proceeds'. The ONSC further opined that 'such an agreement . . . does not provide access to justice to Schenk in a true sense, but rather provides an attractive business opportunity to Redress, who suffered no alleged wrong'.
As with prior jurisprudence arising in the class proceedings context, and particularly McIntyre Estate, the ONSC in Schenk was concerned with the overarching principle of access to justice. However, the ruling does not include an express discussion of the proper or improper motive behind the funding, which has previously appeared in Canadian jurisprudence regarding champerty and maintenance. Other issues that have typically been considered in the process of judicial approval of a funding agreement, such as the termination provisions, were found to be reasonable and fair.
Ultimately, the ONSC in Schenk dismissed the motion for approval, but granted the plaintiff, Schenk, the opportunity to revise the agreement and bring a further motion for approval. In other words, there is no reason why TPF cannot exist in the single-party commercial litigation context; however, if brought before the courts for approval, the funding agreements must be based upon based reasonable and fair terms. In Schenk, the plaintiff and the funder revised the TPFA in accordance with the ONSC's directions and resubmitted it to the Court. The agreement was approved and the litigation is currently ongoing.
There have been further decisions in the single-party commercial context. For example, in Seedlings Life Science Ventures, LLC v. Pfizer Canada Inc (Seedlings), the court considered the enforcement of the plaintiff's patent against an international pharmaceutical company. Seedlings needed financial help moving its litigation forward and Bentham IMF (now Omni Bridgeway) agreed to pay a portion of its legal fees and disbursements on a non-recourse basis. Seedlings sought approval of the agreement, but, as explained in Section IV.ii, the court ultimately concluded that it did not need to approve the funding agreement. This case demonstrates the growth of funding beyond the class action context, which, as discussed below, has contributed to an increasing divergence in the law applicable to TPFAs in the class action context and those in the context of single-party litigation.
The developing common law has also been reflected in Quebec case law. In a March 2018 decision, Re 9354 9186 (formerly Bluberi Gaming Technologies Inc) and 9354 9178 (formerly Bluberi Group Inc), the Quebec Superior Court relied upon Kinross (cited above under class actions) and Hayes v. City of Saint John to find that TPFAs 'should be approved, subject to [certain] principles' that reflect the considerations addressed in common law jurisprudence. The Quebec Court of Appeal imposed greater demands for the approval of the TPFA. Notably, it ordered the TPFA to be submitted to the creditors for a vote as a plan of arrangement, which arguably diverged from the practice in single-party commercial litigation, in which there is authority to suggest that a TPFA does not require pre-approval by the courts, and from prior case law on TPFAs in bankruptcy proceedings, where the courts approved the TPFA without a vote of creditors.
In January 2020, the Supreme Court of Canada heard the appeal of the claimant and funder (Omni Bridgeway) and, from the bench, overturned the decision of the Quebec Court of Appeal and reinstated the judgment of the court of first instance. In sum, the Supreme Court focused on the fairness of the TPFA in its reasons, which harkens back to the guiding principles first articulated in McIntyre Estate v. Ontario (Attorney General). The Court unanimously found that the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act Court properly exercised its discretion to approve the relevant TPFA after finding it to be 'fair and reasonable'. The TPFA was not a plan of arrangement and did not need to be presented to Bluberi's creditors for a vote.
Structuring the agreement
i Class actions
Canadian case law demonstrates that parties to a TPFA must conclude an agreement that the courts will approve as being fair and reasonable and non-champertous. In recent judgments, the courts have focused on the typical clauses in TPFAs in the Canadian market to assess fairness, such as:
- the terms on which the funder will pay legal fees, disbursements, security for costs (if ordered), costs assessed against the plaintiff and a portion of docketed time of counsel;
- clauses governing the flow of information regarding the proceedings;
- the agreement on the portion of the proceeds granted to the funder if the action is successful;
- clauses regarding the conduct of proceedings and settlement, including confirming that counsel take instructions from the clients, not from the funder;
- the representations and warranties of the claimants in respect of the claims and the pursuit thereof; and
- the termination provisions, both in terms of the right to terminate the TPFA and the consequences thereof.
In construing the above terms and determining whether they are unfair or champertous (or both), the courts will rely upon judgments regarding similar terms captured in other TPFAs. For example, as set out in Section II.ii, the ONSC recognised that the TPFA at issue in Labourers' Pension Fund was materially the same agreement as had been approved in Dugal. The Court approved the TPFAs, as submitted, in both cases. However, as funding arrangements expand beyond the costs-indemnity-plus-minimal-disbursements model seen in the early class action jurisprudence, comparisons to prior agreements may be more difficult to make. For example, in JB & M Walker, the funder agreed to pay all the legal fees and disbursements, in addition to covering any costs awards, so it was more difficult to draw analogies to earlier cases.
In Stanway v. Wyeth Canada Inc, the British Columbia Supreme Court relied upon the Ontario jurisprudence to analyse the TPFA provisions and find that TPFAs 'must be fair and reasonable and provide the representative plaintiffs with access to judgment, without compromising the principles of independence of counsel, confidentiality agreements between the parties be observed and, not to the disadvantage of the representative plaintiffs'. The Court noted the lack of a commission cap in the agreement, but ultimately favourably compared the agreement to previously approved TPFAs. It also analysed the terms of the termination clause and the right to terminate the agreement following a decision to change counsel and addressed the concerns of the defendant over privacy and confidentiality arising under an access order applicable to documents originating from other jurisdictions. In doing so, it approved the funding agreement.
As noted above, changes to Ontario's Class Proceedings Act 2002 introduced in July 2020, although not proclaimed in force at that time, codify certain of the common law requirements around TPFAs. Under the legislative framework, a court will not approve a TPFA except where it is satisfied that the agreement is fair and reasonable, that the agreement does not impair the solicitor–client relationship and that the funder will be able to satisfy adverse cost awards, to the extent it has agreed to provide an indemnity for risks of that kind.
ii Single-party commercial litigation
While the courts have a broad supervisory role over class actions, consistent with the responsibility to protect the interest of class members, no such mandate exists in single-party litigation. If called upon to review a funding agreement, it appears that the courts will look to the three key criteria set out in Schenk: (1) the funder did not 'stir up' the litigation; (2) the funder cannot control the litigation; and (3) the funder's return must be reasonable. In Schenk, the court drew guidance from Ontario's Contingency Fee Regulations, which allow a return of up to 50 per cent of the litigation proceeds.
Aside from these factors, Canadian courts do not appear likely to delve into the details of an agreement reached between a properly advised individual plaintiff and a funder, particularly at the outset of litigation.
Disclosure issues and the question of legal privilege have developed differently in the class proceedings setting compared to the single-party commercial litigation setting. In determining what may need to be disclosed, and what aspects of a TPFA may be privileged, the setting of the dispute is important.
i Class actions
The disclosure obligations vary by province. For example, in Alberta and Nova Scotia, the courts will approve an agreement on an ex parte basis. However, in New Brunswick, the defendants must be given notice, but are not provided with a copy of the TPFA and can therefore only address overall principles without application to the specific agreement.
Ontario and British Columbia require notice to the defendants, who must receive a copy of the agreement. As set out in Kinross, in the class proceedings context, 'a TPFA must be promptly disclosed to the court, and the agreement cannot come into force without court approval. Third party funding of a class proceeding must be transparent, and it must be reviewed to ensure that there are no abuses or interference with the administration of justice. The TPFA is not itself a privileged document.' Under the amended CPA, plaintiffs are required to share a TPFA with defendants and file a copy of the agreement, subject to redaction of information that may reasonably be considered to confer a tactical advantage.
The issue of privilege in a class proceeding context also arose in Fehr. In this case, the court reaffirmed that TPFAs are not privileged and even if they were, that privilege has either been rebutted or waived. Consequently, the court cautioned that 'as a matter of best practices, an applicant for third party funding should not include extraneous and otherwise privileged information in a third party funding agreement'. Underscoring the importance of disclosure, in Davies v. The Corporation of the Municipality of Clarington, the court refused to award loan interest as a properly recoverable disbursement in a costs decision following a class action proceeding on the basis that the loan agreements were not disclosed to the court. In making this finding, the court referred to Kinross, Houle v. St Jude Medical Inc and other TPF cases.
In David v. Loblaw, the court was confronted with an objection by defendants in a proposed class action over an undertaking for security for costs by Bentham IMF (now Omni Bridgeway), arguing that the redaction of the cap on funding obligations raised concerns over the sufficiency of the undertaking. In response to the objection, the court confirmed that it had reviewed the unredacted version submitted to the court under seal and that it was satisfied that the funder's obligations to fund the litigation would be sufficient to address any adverse costs award. Therefore, the parties may redact terms that provide insight into budget and strategy, as long as those terms are disclosed to the court.
ii Single-party commercial litigation
In the commercial litigation setting, the Federal Court has found that 'there are no procedural requirements for the approval of a party's funding agreement outside of class proceedings' and that the question is strictly a matter of contract between the funder and the plaintiff. In Seedlings Life Sciences Ventures LLC, the Federal Court declined to approve the TPFA, ruling that 'where the Plaintiff is asserting its own rights against the Defendant, th[e] Court has no jurisdiction to make any determination in respect of any funding agreement to which the Plaintiff is a party'. To the apparent benefit of funded litigants in the commercial litigation setting, the Court questioned why its approval would be necessary and confirmed that a '[d]efendant has no legitimate interest in enquiring into the reasonability, legality or validity of [the plaintiff's] financial arrangements, its counsel's fee structure or the manner in which [the plaintiff] chooses to allocate the risks and potential returns of the litigation'. A similar perspective was articulated in the court of first instance in the Bluberi case, which was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court: '[c]onsidering the litigation at issue here is similar in nature to an oppression dispute, Callidus should not know how much money Bentham is investing, what its percentage of return is or how any recovery would be apportioned.'
In both Schenk and Seedlings, the agreement came before the court because the funder and plaintiff chose to make the agreements subject to court approval. The finding in Seedlings appears to narrow the applicability of the champerty and maintenance issue to the funder and funded plaintiff only, rather than being a relevant consideration in the action between the funded plaintiff and defendant. While not yet conclusively resolved, this narrowing of the champerty issue seems to limit the need to disclose terms of a TPFA in the context of single-party commercial litigation (although clients and their funders may continue to voluntarily disclose their agreements in any event).
On the issue of privilege in the commercial litigation setting, the Federal Court has found that litigation privilege attaches to certain aspects of the TPFA at issue, particularly in respect of the details regarding the funding commitment and the temporal variables of the indemnity provisions, which, if disclosed, would provide a tactical advantage to the opposing party.
The year in review
In past years, the development of the law on TPF has been defined by the consolidation of jurisprudence regarding TPFAs in different types of legal proceedings, including class actions, single-party commercial litigation and bankruptcy. The trend continued in early 2020, beginning with the Supreme Court's decision in Bluberi. The unanimous decision, initially delivered from the bench, provided clarity that a TPFA is not a 'plan of arrangement' that requires creditor approval and that fairness and reasonableness are at the heart of an enforceable TPFAs. It continued with the Court's application of the 'factors as set out in Houle' for assessing the approval of TPFAs, as summarised in Singh and Tidd.
While applicable jurisprudence has evolved within Canadian courts, some commentators have highlighted the lack of similar evolution in the legislation, through policies, statutes or codes of conduct to guide parties on the issue of TPF. However, this, too, has begun to change, as legislatures have amended existing statutes to address TPF; a trend that continued in 2020. For example, the recently amended Chapter 233 of the British Columbia International Commercial Arbitration Act RSBC 1996 modified recognition and enforcement provisions to expressly confirm that '[f]or the purposes of subsection (1)(b)(ii), third party funding for an arbitration is not contrary to the public policy in British Columbia.' Moreover, following the Final Report of the Law Commission of Ontario released in July 2019, which made a number of recommendations for the amendment of the CPA to permit TPF, Ontario introduced an amended CPA in 2020 with specific provisions dealing with TPFAs. These provisions introduce a number of obligations for funders and funded parties, such as the direct liability of a funder to a defendant where the representative plaintiff has costs ordered against it and the obligation of a funded party to provide the defendant with a copy of the funding agreement. The new provisions also balance these obligations with rights for funded parties, such as the right to redact information that may reasonably be considered to confer a tactical advantage.
Finally, the past year has witnessed the development of exceptional economic and legal circumstances associated with the covid-19 pandemic. Any 'year in review' must acknowledge the significant uncertainty introduced by the pandemic for legal proceedings and future claims resulting from widespread social disruptions and health concerns. The effects of the pandemic are addressed briefly in the next section.
Conclusions and outlook
Overall, the law regarding TPFAs continues to develop favourably for the funding industry in Canada. There are further examples of successfully approved TPFAs (David v. Loblaw, JB & M Walker and Drynan), which provide further clarity on the components of an acceptance of TPFAs in the context of class proceedings. The Supreme Court's ruling in Bluberi was perhaps the clearest statement to date that Canadian jurisprudence is receptive to TPF and will treat 'fair and reasonable' TPFAs with approval in a range of legal proceedings.
Finally, we expect there will be increased interest in TPF from law firms and well-capitalised claimants in Canada who are interested in managing the cost and risk of their legal disputes. The covid-19 pandemic may contribute to further interest in TPF in Canada, as parties may explore methods to pursue meritorious claims despite facing pressure with constrained legal budgets. At present, the law in Canada is sufficiently well-developed to address new structures of funding and circumstances for its use.
Sustained interest in TPF will advance the law applicable to TPF in the context of class actions, single-party commercial litigation, bankruptcy and other legal proceedings. As more types of legal proceedings involve TPF, we expect the market for TPF will expand similarly to include specialised arrangements with funders, including through 'portfolio funding'. There is currently no clear legislative direction regarding portfolio funding, although given the recent interest in this issue in other jurisdictions, and the increased focus on funding by provincial legislatures, we may expect some direction from authorities in the future if portfolio funding takes root among funders and firms in Canada.