On November 1, 2010, the Alberta Government introduced Bill 20, the Class Proceedings Amendment Act, 2010, into the Legislature for first reading. This new legislation proposes some significant changes to Alberta’s class action law.

Bill 20 changes Alberta from an “opt in” jurisdiction for non-residents to an “opt out” jurisdiction. This means that when a class action is commenced in Alberta, everyone in Canada who falls within the definition of the class will automatically be included in the class action (and bound by its outcome) unless they expressly opt out. Further, Alberta Courts will now be able to certify “multi-jurisdiction” class actions; that is, class actions certified in Alberta that include and affect the rights of all Canadians who fit the definition of the class and who do not opt out.

Under the current class action legislation in Alberta, first introduced in 2003, Alberta is an “opt in” jurisdiction for non-residents; that is, persons who would otherwise qualify as members of the class described in the lawsuit, who were not residents of Alberta, would have to expressly opt in to the litigation in order to be bound by its outcome. If a non-resident did not opt in, as provided for under the processes ordered by the Court (generally through the submission of a standardized opt in form), that non-resident would not be bound by the outcome of the class proceedings and would be free to commence their own independent action.

Practically, these amendments will make it easier to commence class actions in Alberta as opposed to other “opt out” provinces, principally Ontario. Previously, class actions with potential class members in more than one province would generally be commenced in Ontario, because that province’s legislation is also an “opt out” regime allowing multi-jurisdiction class actions. Even if the defendant’s primary place of business was another province, where the class members were scattered across Canada it simply made more sense to commence one action in Ontario rather than separate actions in several provinces.

It remains to be seen how Bill 20 will progress through the Legislature. McLennan Ross will continue to keep you updated on the progress of this important amendment to Alberta’s class action law.