On January 11, 2013, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice (Divisional Court) delivered its decision in Re Rankin, upholding the decision of the Ontario Securities Commission (the “Commission”) dismissing an Application to set aside an order in which it approved a settlement agreement between Commission Staff and the appellant, Andrew Rankin (“Rankin”).
Rankin was managing director of the mergers and acquisitions branch of RBC Dominion Securities. Charged with ten counts of insider trading and ten counts of tipping under ss. 76(1) and (2) of the Securities Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. S.5 (the “Act”), he was ultimately convicted of all ten counts of tipping but was not convicted of insider trading.
Rankin committed these offences by providing confidential information to Daniel Duic, (“Duic”), an acquaintance who himself was in negotiations with the Commission and subsequently settled with it. Duic provided evidence on which the trial judge relied to convict Rankin, sentencing him to 6 months’ imprisonment.
On November 9, 2006, Rankin’s conviction was overturned and a new trial was ordered by Justice Nordheimer of the Superior Court of Justice. Before the commencement of the new trial, on February 19, 2008, Commission Staff reached a settlement agreement with Rankin, which included an admission of guilt. The Commission approved the settlement agreement on February 21, 2008, and released reasons on March 17, 2008.
In August, 2008, Rankin learned that in late 2007, Duic had been under investigation for committing a “technical breach” of his settlement agreement by engaging in trading contrary to the Cease Trade Order included in his settlement agreement.
Rankin brought an Application challenging the Commission’s decision to approve the settlement agreement pursuant to s. 144 of the Act on the basis that the failure of Commission Staff to disclose the investigation against Duic resulted in manifest unfairness to Rankin in deciding to enter into the settlement agreement. The Commission rejected Rankin’s Application.
On appeal, the Divisional Court held that the Commission’s decision not to revoke the settlement agreement was reasonable. The Divisional Court concluded that the information in question would not likely have materially impacted Rankin’s defence strategy, apart from calling Duic’s credibility into question. It further found that the Commission was correct to conclude that the omission of such information did not cause manifest unfairness to Rankin.
Justice Matlow dissented. According to Justice Matlow, it was essential that Rankin be fully apprised of the evidence against him, including the full scope and nature of the investigations against Duic. Furthermore, held Justice Matlow, the Commission erred in considering whether information relating to the investigation against Duic was “crucial information in connection with the negotiation of the Rankin Settlement Agreement” instead of information relevant to Rankin’s decision to enter into the settlement agreement. As Matlow J. put it,
[t]he Commission’s formulation of the test required the Commission to determine whether or not the undisclosed information, as at the time when Rankin agreed to the settlement, “would likely have affected the outcome of the Rankin Administrative Proceeding“. Not only was this requirement irrelevant to the merits of Rankin’s motion before the Commission but, because it called for the Commission to make a determination, as at that time, of the likely outcome of a future hearing, first assuming that Rankin did not have the undisclosed information and then comparing it on the assumption that he did, it was unworkable.
According to Justice Matlow, Rankin should have been provided with all information relevant to his decision to enter into the settlement agreement, not merely that information which was crucial to its negotiation.
The result of the Court’s split decision in this case raises many questions. What rights do persons accused of offences under the Act have to disclosure of the case against them? If an accused person faces possible incarceration resulting from breaches of the Act, should criminal law disclosure obligations not apply to Commission Staff?
The decision of the Divisional Court in this case would suggest the answer is “no”.
If an accused person enters a guilty plea in the criminal context because the crown does not disclose material information relevant to the case against the accused, the accused may succeed in having the guilty plea withdrawn. To do so, the accused must prove (a) that the Crown did not meet its disclosure obligations; and (b), that on a balance of probabilities the lack of disclosure impaired the accused’s right to make full answer and defence (see R. c. Taillefer (2003), 179 C.C.C. (3d) 353 (SCC)).
The Divisional Court distinguished the present case from pure criminal cases, indicating instead that proceedings before the Commission are administrative and quasi-criminal. In such context, the Divisional Court suggested, the public interest does not require the setting aside of the settlement agreement, and concluded that from the perspective of a reasonable person, if disclosed, the information would not have affected the outcome of the proceedings.
This case highlights the distinction between the prosecution’s criminal and quasi-criminal disclosure obligations. Given that an accused person prosecuted under criminal or quasi-criminal charges may suffer the same punishment, namely, a loss of liberty, one might reasonably ask why a distinction exists between the crown’s disclosure obligations in each circumstance.
This question is not resolved by the court in this case, and it appears that at least for the time being, the prosecution will be subject to a lower standard of disclosure in quasi-criminal proceedings than in criminal proceedings, notwithstanding that proceedings under each regime may impose similar if not identical punishments on those convicted.