We previously discussed the Alberta Court of Appeal's decision in Ravvin v Canada Bread Company, Limited, 2020 ABCA 424, which arose out of an alleged packaged bread price-fixing conspiracy. Plaintiffs started class proceedings in multiple provinces but stays were granted in most actions in favour of a national class proceeding before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. The defendants similarly moved to stay the two proposed class proceedings in Alberta on the basis that they overlapped with the Ontario proceedings, which were more advanced. The plaintiff opposed the stay arguing that the certification application needed to proceed first.
The Alberta Court of Appeal upheld the case management judge's decision to grant the stay of proceedings. In doing so, the Alberta Court of Appeal confirmed the jurisdiction of a case management judge to grant a stay of proceedings under section 5 of the Class Proceedings Act before hearing the certification application. In its reasons, the Alberta Court of Appeal emphasized the importance of judicial economy, one of the three public policy objectives of class proceedings. On May 20, 2021, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the plaintiff’s leave application with costs.
Since the Court of Appeal’s decision, the Alberta courts have applied Ravvin in two proceedings:
In McColl v Air Canada, 2021 ABPC 120, the plaintiff commenced an individual claim against Air Canada for breach of contract because Air Canada issued him a voucher rather than a refund for flight tickets canceled because of COVID-19. Air Canada sought a stay of McColl's action on the basis that there were class actions underway in other jurisdictions. The Court granted the stay, relying on Ravvin for the proposition that the lack of certification was not a barrier to granting a stay where the Court can obtain sufficient understanding of the nature and particulars of the proposed class proceedings.
In Britton v Ford Motor Company of Canada, 2021 ABQB 17, which our Class Action Litigation group recently discussed, the plaintiff commenced a proposed class action in 2019 against Ford Motor Company of Canada alleging that Ford had designed, manufactured or distributed vehicles with defective engines and spark plugs. The same law firm that acted for the plaintiff had started a nearly identical proceeding in Saskatchewan seven years earlier. In granting Ford's application for a stay, the Court cited Ravvin, reiterating that overlapping national class proceedings that do not serve a legitimate purpose should be avoided because they often undermine the three policy objectives of class proceedings (judicial economy, access to justice and behaviour modification). The Court noted that the challenge in managing multijurisdictional class actions was the lack of a national, coordinated approach to class actions.
These decisions reaffirm the growing shift towards coordination among courts and parties to minimize overlapping proceedings to ensure judicial efficiency and national coordination. The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision denying leave in Raavin may be a sign that the Court believes the problem of overlapping class actions can be managed through case management by local courts.