As we anticipated in our class actions trends update last year, class actions filings continue to increase in British Columbia, including potentially because of amendments to Ontario’s Class Proceedings Act. Last year, we reported that 45 new class actions were filed in B.C. Supreme Court in 2019, and that 2020 saw a sharp rise in filings to 64. This past year saw another jump: about 70 new class actions were filed in the Vancouver registry alone in 2021. The time is ripe for another look at the types of cases driving this upward trend.
Consumer protection class actions were as prolific in 2021 as ever. This type of class action often involves allegations that a defendant’s product was defective or that advertising for a product or service was misleading. The broad language in B.C.’s consumer protection legislation (the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act) and the federal Competition Act opens the door to a wide variety of claims; we expect consumer protection claims to continue their reign as the most common type of class action filed in B.C.
While consumer protection filings bolstered the overall increase in class actions year over year, 2021 saw a real shake-up in terms of the other types of class actions driving that upward trend. Some of the notable shifts included:
- COVID-related claims have shifted from insurance coverage to claims against public authorities. BC’s “wave” of COVID-19 related business interruption insurance coverage claims began in about June 2020, but appears to have mostly subsided in 2021. The reason for the sharp decrease is unclear. However, just as COVID-19 is still circulating in our communities, it remains a hot topic in class actions filings. Insurance coverage claims have given way to claims related to the vaccine rollout, masking mandates, and the government’s exercise of executive powers to make public health orders.
- Claims against government have sharply increased. Government entities were the target of approximately double the class actions claims in British Columbia in 2021 versus 2020. COVID-19-related claims tell only a small part of the story—a more significant driver of the increase was a series of claims brought by various stakeholders in response to fishing restrictions in the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area in Haida Gwaii.
- Privacy breach claims remain steady, but claims for data misuse are down. While class action filings concerning data breaches remain high, 2021 saw a drop in the number of filings alleging that individuals’ personal information was misused or monetized without consent. However, the sharp reduction in 2021 could be a mere blip: this category of claim is already back on the rise in 2022.
Like last year, class actions filings continue to be on the rise in British Columba, including in the already hot consumer protection space.