As of July 15, 2019, the Civil Resolution Tribunal (“CRT”) can adjudicate “societies and cooperative association” claims. This is an important development for societies and their members aimed at improving efficiency and cost-effectiveness of resolving disputes arising under the Societies Act or the constitution or bylaws of a society.
Who can bring a claim?
Societies or members of societies that have been duly incorporated and remain in good standing with the BC Corporate Registry can bring a claim to the CRT. Cooperative associations in the areas of housing and community service may also bring a claim.
The CRT will not accept disputes concerning unincorporated societies, extra-provincial societies, for-profit corporations or cooperatives not in the above-noted categories.
Which claims are included?
Not all claims involving societies or cooperative associations or their members can be brought to the CRT.
A common request made by members that will be more cost-effective and efficient to make to the CRT, compared to previous application avenues, is an application to obtain access to inspect or receive a copy of society records.
The CRT also has jurisdiction to adjudicate a claim involving:
1. The interpretation or application of the Societies Act and regulations or a societies’ constitution or bylaws;
2. Actions or threatened actions by the society or its directors in relation to a member; or
3. Decisions of the society or its directors in relation to a member.
The CRT cannot adjudicate several matters that remain within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of B.C., which includes oppression claims, derivative actions, or compliance or restraining orders, and claims involving the qualifications, liability, and indemnification of directors or senior managers. The CRT also cannot adjudicate, among other issues, claims concerning:
1. The validity of society contracts;
2. Member-funded societies and occupational title societies;
3. Termination of membership;
4. Liquidation, dissolution or restoration of societies;
5. Corporate reorganizations;
6. Matters involving an audit or auditors; or
7. A claim to which all parties agree that the Arbitration Act will apply.
As cases are decided by the CRT under the new legislative scheme, we will gain a better sense of what issues can and cannot be considered by the CRT.
What does it cost to bring a claim?
The CRT is aimed at being more user-friendly than the typical court system and its online submission forms and FAQ’s encourage individuals or societies to prepare and handle claims on their own. That said, it can often still be helpful for legal counsel to review any materials prepared for a CRT proceeding. It is worth noting that parties are generally required to represent themselves at a CRT hearing, but can apply for permission to be represented by an advocate or a lawyer. The CRT will assess whether it is just and fair to allow representation. Only in extraordinary cases will the tribunal order one part to pay another party’s fees charged by a lawyer or another representative in the dispute process.
The administrative costs for bringing a society and cooperative association claim are relatively modest, and discounts are made for filing materials online. The administrative fees can be found here.
What are the possible outcomes of a claim?
The CRT can help the parties reach a mutually agreeable resolution through its dispute resolution services and without the necessity of a full hearing. If a claim proceeds to a hearing, the CRT may dismiss the claim, require the society to do or refrain from doing something, or pay money to a member. Decisions may be appealed on limited grounds to the Supreme Court of British Columbia in the form of a judicial review.
What does this mean for societies and members?
The CRT now provides an additional avenue for some society claims to be brought and adjudicated. As more cases are brought before the CRT, we will gain a sense of the efficiency of the system, and the remedies ordered by the CRT. It will be interesting to see whether this new process facilitates more expedient and cost-effective resolutions or simply results in more members being inclined to involve their societies in disputes. In any event, it will impact many societies and their members in B.C. moving forward.
If you are a society defending a claim made by a member, or a member considering a claim against a society, contact us today to obtain our opinion on the viability of a claim and the appropriate procedures to follow.