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SCC Expands Use of Summary Trials

The reasons of the Supreme Court of Canada in Hryniak v Mauldin 2014 SCC 7 were recently published, expanding the role of summary procedures in Canada. This is an Ontario case applying relatively new summary judgment rules allowing those Courts to weigh evidence, evaluate credibility, and draw inferences. The Supreme Court emphasized that the aim of trial rules are to achieve a fair process and a just result.

In this case investors sued for civil fraud because money sent to the defendants disappeared (after being deposited in an offshore bank).  The plaintiffs obtained summary judgment against one defendant, but the court dismissed the application against other defendants saying a trial was required to determine factual issues. The unsuccessful defendant appealed.

Though it dismissed the appeal on the merits, the Ontario Court of Appeal held the case was not an appropriate candidate for summary judgment, interpreting “interest of justice” in the rule to mean the court required a full appreciation of the evidence to grant summary judgment.  The Court of Appeal suggested the case was unfit for summary judgment because it required fact finding on an extensive record and involved conflicting evidence from witnesses.

Justice Karakatsanis, for a unanimous Supreme Court of Canada, found that the test used by the Court of Appeal requiring a “full appreciation of the evidence” was too stringent, and replaced it with a test of whether the expense and delay of a full trial were required to obtain a just result after a fair process.

The Court also made sweeping comments about the procedure: the Canadian civil justice system requires a culture change to allow access to summary procedures to resolve disputes; obtaining justice through trial can be illusory because of the cost; settlement hinges on adjudication being a realistic alternative; the old system of extensive pre-trial processes and conventional trial no longer reflects modern reality and the needs of justice; and alternative models of adjudication are no less legitimate than the conventional trial. The Supreme Court suggested a failed summary judgment motion can be salvaged by the presiding judge using the powers of trial procedure and becoming seized of the matter for trial.

This decision is expected to be influential in British Columbia, although in BC this procedure is labeled summary trial. Summary trial has a long and successful history in British Columbia but many cases fail because courts find them unsuitable for the procedure. The comments made by the Supreme Court of Canada can be cited to Judges in British Columbia to make this procedure available for more cases and resulting in fewer applications for summary trial failing on the basis of unsuitability.

Case summary prepared by: Chris McDougall