Earlier this year, the Superior Court of Quebec Chief Justice Jacques Fournier and Justice Pierre-C. Gagnon announced changes to the class action division in Montreal’s judicial district. Coming into effect in late 2018, the division will hear all applications for authorization (known as certification in all other provinces except Prince Edward Island).

Under the new process, 10 designated judges of the Superior Court of Quebec in Montreal will hear all cases in which authorization has yet to be decided, including applications and preliminary motions. Each judge can expect to manage approximately 15 cases. The designated judges have been selected based on their experience in class action proceedings, which is expected to enhance case management of the authorization stage.

Once a class action is authorized, the case will be transferred to another judge from the civil division of the Superior Court of Quebec for trial management.

The new structure is similar to the current system in Ontario, where a designated number of judges case manage class actions at the certification stage.

Driving forces behind the changes

The new procedure departs from current practice where the same judge manages both the authorization stage and the trial. However, the cumulative impact of delays has meant that some cases were taking more than two years to move through the authorization stage.

When announcing the changes, Justice Gagnon, coordinating judge of Montreal’s Class Action Division, pointed to the significant increase to the class actions judicial workload since the enactment of the new Québec Code of Civil Procedure in January of 2016, which revamped Quebec’s class action regime.

Several recent decisions by the Court of Appeal of Quebec have confirmed the broad, permissive approach to authorization under the new Code: J.J. c. Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal, Charles c. Boiron Canada Inc., Sibiga c. Fido Solutions Inc. and Asselin c. Desjardins Cabinet de services financiers inc.

The Supreme Court of Canada has previously confirmed that class action authorization in Quebec has a lower standard than in common law provinces. The authorization motion judge’s role is essentially to screen out frivolous cases.

In 2017 alone, 65 new class actions were filed in Montreal, which brings the total number of active cases to 338. Judgments were rendered by the Superior Court in 175 preliminary motions, authorizations, and trial decisions.

The new class action process has widely been seen as a welcomed step towards creating greater efficiency and predictability. As class actions continue to grow in complexity, many see the new process as a modernized approach in light of the growing number of cross-border and multijurisdictional cases.