The most basic principle of corporate directorships is that the directors have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of their corporation. It has followed closely that directors should serve the best interests of the shareholders – in most circumstances this means all the shareholders, not the majority or some faction to which a director might owe allegiance. Although it’s not so clear how expansively directors should interpret those corporate interests, the trend is toward consideration of more groups of “stakeholders.” The past year has seen important reinforcements for that trend.Read More
Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog
Although an ever-expanding range of laws prohibit workplace harassment, the Court of Appeal for Ontario has now ruled that harassment is not a free-standing common law tort in that province. This ruling reverses a trial court ruling by the by the provincial Superior Court of Justice that shocked employment law in 2017. This ruling returns workplace harassment to the realm of statutory and regulatory requirements and prohibitions, which certainly isn’t unambiguous, but at least offers more structured frames of reference. The case is Merrifield v. Canada (Attorney General), and it litigates a complaint between a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and his employers.Read More
In the last few years, and particularly with the advent of the #MeToo movement, some employers may have seen a rise in the number of harassment complaints in the workplace, including sexual harassment complaints. Employers under federal jurisdiction have been affected as well.
However, the current legal framework surrounding harassment and violence in federally regulated workplaces is fragmented. The results of many public consultations have shown that this framework is not currently designed to adequately address occurrences of sexual harassment and sexual violence.
In that context, in the past 18 months, significant changes have been proposed to the current legislation to address workplace harassment situations.
Sexual harassment in Canadian workplaces can trigger a variety of laws and regulations:Read More
The Canada Labour Code and provincial employment standards acts generally specify a minimum notice period before such terminations (the “statutory notice period”), and generally allow the employer to pay compensation to the employee instead of giving the employee notice. (e.g., CLC ss. 54-67) This compensation is usually called “severance pay”; it replaces advance notice of termination. In general, the severance pay must equal the salary and benefits that the employee would have earned if permitted to work until the end of the notice period. Courts interpret and defend these prohibitions against “contracting out” termination benefits.Read More
On April 26, 2018, the Ontario government passed the Pay Transparency Act, 2018 (the Act), which created a number of requirements for employers with respect to compensation reporting and disclosure to employees and potential employees, as well as compliance compensation reporting to the government, which the government will then make public.Read More
In the recent British Columbia Supreme Court decision of Kenny v. Weatherhaven Global Resources Ltd., the plaintiff successfully claimed unpaid bonuses and bonus amounts owed over the contractual notice period of approximately $170,000.Read More
In a recent decision, Canadian Union of Postal Workers v. Canada Post Corporation, the Federal Court of Appeal reversed an earlier Federal Court endorsement of an appeals officer’s decision to limit the definition of “workplace” for the purposes of inspection under Part II of the Canada Labour Code to workplaces where the employer exercises control.Read More
The Tax Court of Canada ruling in Sud v. Canada (2017 TCC 106), reinforces the saying “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” for directors trying to mitigate their personal liability for tax remittance risk. Arun Sud was advised to incorporate his courier business by his employer for tax reasons. He incorporated 1186271 Ontario Inc. (the “Corporation”) under the laws of Ontario on June 21, 1996, and operated the business as its sole director and shareholder until it ceased operations in August, 2005. GST collected was owed for the period from January 1, 2003 to December 31, 2005. In November 2006, the Corporation was assessed for unpaid GST and it filed an appeal of the assessment in the Tax Court. In February of 2010, a consent agreement was filed with the Court in which the Corporation was to pay $36,363.28. This amount was never paid.
On August 1, 2014, Sud was assessed $17,298.32 of the Corporation’s unremitted GST as the Corporation’s director and he filed his appeal to the Tax Court. He argued that he had not acted as the Corporation’s director since it had ceased operations in 2005 and that the assessment in 2014 was outside the two-year limitation period for assessing director’s liability in s. 323(5) of the Excise Tax Act. He also argued that since no annual corporate returns had been filed since 2005, he believed the Corporation would be automatically dissolved after two years. In fact, the Ministry of Finance of Ontario by Notice of Dissolution effective October 24, 2016, dissolved the Corporation, at which point its certificate of incorporation was cancelled.
The Tax Court noted that the two-year limitation in the Excise Tax Act only begins to run after a person “last ceased to be a director,” and therefore, the question was whether Sud ceased to be a director before the date of his assessment. It held that that issue was determined by the rules in the applicable corporate statute, which, in Ontario, would occur on the director’s death, resignation, removal or disqualification. The Court held that the first and the latter two rules were not applicable in this case. The Ontario rule regarding resignation required the corporation must receive a written resignation in order to constitute an effective resignation. Sud had never submitted such a resignation.
The Court rejected the argument that Sud had ceased to be a director because the Corporation had ceased operations, relying on an earlier decision, Bremmer v. R., (2007 TCC 509), finding that a director’s duties continue after the corporation ceases operations. The Court also noted that even if Sud had submitted a written resignation, it may not have been effective because the Ontario statute required the corporation have at least one director, so in order for Sud to resign, another director would have had to be appointed or elected. Accordingly, the Court dismissed Sud’s appeal.
In another decision by the Tax Court of Canada, Grant v. Canada (2017 TCC 121), Christopher Grant, a director of RII Holdings Inc. (the “Corporation”) was found liable for unremitted source deductions, interest and penalties of $ $66,865.44. The Corporation that had made the deductions had become bankrupt and its assets were taken over by a bankruptcy trustee August 1, 2006. The assessment against Grant as a director was made in May 2012. Grant claimed that he had ceased to be a director when the Corporation became bankrupt and the bankruptcy trustee assumed control of its assets in 2006, well beyond the two-year limitation period for assessing directors after they cease being directors.
The Court held that bankruptcy did not terminate a director’s status as a director of the bankrupt corporation, despite control being asserted by the trustee. The Court held that the only legislation governing how a director ceases to hold office is the relevant corporate legislation, in this case the Ontario Business Corporations Act (OBCA), which requires a written resignation be received by the corporation in order for a director to effectively resign. As no resignation had been submitted, the Court found that Grant was still a director and able to be assessed for the liability for the source deductions.
These decisions, once again illustrate that individuals serving as corporate directors, need legal advice about the avenues available to mitigate their personal liability risks. Corporate law statutes have various requirements that must be met if an individual wishes to effectively resign their directorship. Relying on common sense understandings, as Sud and Grant apparently did respectively, regarding the effect of ceasing to file the corporation’s annual reports, or the effect of corporate bankruptcy, may lead to unanticipated liability for that individual. For further information on the risk mitigation strategies with respect to tax liability, see Canadian Directors’ Liability, Chapter 5, “Liabilities Relating to Taxation Law,” Section 2, Subsection a.2, “Ceasing to be a Director.”
Specialty Technical Publishers (STP) has just published an update to its publication Directors' Liability in Canada and provides a variety of single-law and multi-law services, intended to facilitate clients’ understanding of and compliance with requirements. These include:
About the Author
Ronald Davis is an associate professor emeritus at the Peter A. Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia. He obtained his Bachelor of Laws degree from the Faculty of Law, University of Toronto in 1990, graduating as that year’s silver medalist. He was called to the Ontario Bar and practiced law in Toronto for 10 years before returning to graduate studies at the University of Toronto.