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  • The Impact of COVID-19 on Contracts

    With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, governments and agencies are implementing an increasing number of measures of all kinds. The state of emergency is giving rise to a multitude of legal concerns, in particular contractual ones. The temporary closure of many businesses, public places and borders and the resulting economic uncertainty is leading businesses to question their contractual obligations, which may have become difficult to meet. In such a context, can debtors fail to meet their obligations without being held liable? The answer to this question can be found either in the text of the contract binding the parties or in the Civil Code of Québec (hereinafter “C.C.Q.”). Many contracts do in fact provide for exemption mechanisms. They set out which of the parties will bear the risks associated with events beyond their control. In the absence of contractual provisions to that effect, the rules set out in the C.C.Q. apply. The Civil Code of Québec and superior force Article 1693 C.C.Q. provides that the debtor of an obligation is released from said obligation when it cannot be performed by reason of superior force. However, the burden of proof of superior force is on the debtor. In Quebec law, superior force is defined as an unforeseeable and irresistible event that is external to the party subject to the obligation. It makes the performance of an obligation impossible1. Thus, in certain circumstances, natural phenomena, such as earthquakes, floods and others, or human acts, such as a state of emergency declared by a government, illness or death, may be considered superior force. Determining whether an event in a particular context constitutes superior force must be done by taking into account all relevant factors. For an event to qualify as superior force, it must meet the following three conditions or criteria. It must be: Unforeseeable Irresistible Exterior An event is unforeseeable when the parties to a contract, acting as reasonably prudent and diligent persons, could not foresee it at the time that the contract was concluded. There is no need for the event to be a new phenomenon. For example, ice storms in Quebec are not unusual. In 1998, however, the ice storm led to an unforeseeable situation. The magnitude of the 1998 ice storm was such that it was sometimes described as superior force.  An event is irresistible when (i) any person placed in the same circumstances cannot reasonably avoid it and (ii) it makes the performance of an obligation impossible. Thus, if the performance of an obligation remains possible, but is simply more difficult, more perilous or more expensive, the event having caused the complication cannot be considered superior force. For an event to be considered exterior, the debtor must have no control over it and must not be responsible for causing it. The debtor must even be able to demonstrate that it has taken all reasonable steps to mitigate its consequences. On the basis of these criteria, the current state of emergency in Quebec may be deemed to be a situation of superior force for some debtors. The analysis must be made on a case-by-case basis and consider the specific obligations of each debtor. For example, the production stoppage ordered by the Government of Quebec, imposing the suspension of workplace activities other than priority activities as of March 25, 2020, makes it absolutely impossible for certain businesses to perform the obligations covered by this decree. For others, the state of emergency may have financial consequences, but these do not make their obligations impossible to perform. While the ongoing crisis can be considered an unforeseeable event for the purposes of a contract concluded years ago, this can hardly be the case for a contract concluded in the last few days, when the disease was already endemic or the pandemic had been announced by the health authorities. In the event of superior force, a debtor is released from the obligation(s) affected by the superior force2. Depending on the importance of these obligations, the release may, in certain cases, lead either to the termination of the contract in its entirety, or to the suspension of the performance of certain obligations. Thus, suspension should only occur when the obligations are to be performed successively and the impossibility of performance is only temporary. A debtor who is released from an obligation by reason of superior force may not demand consideration from the other contracting party3. Superior force cannot be used as a means of exemption for a debtor who is subject, under the terms of the contract, to an obligation qualified as an obligation “of warranty4”. The debtor must then perform the obligation and assume all risks related to the occurrence of an unforeseeable and irresistible event over which it has no control. A debtor faced with the current difficulties arising from the global COVID-19 pandemic must, in all cases, take steps to minimize the damage. For example, it must try to find new suppliers or subcontractors before claiming that it is unable to fulfil its obligations. Contracts may provide for different conditions Parties to a contract may include provisions in the contract governing the consequences of uncontrollable situations, such as superior force, and thus deviate from what is provided for in the C.C.Q. In practice, many contracts contain a broader or more restrictive definition of events that may constitute superior force. For example, strikes and fires will generally not be considered cases of superior force within the meaning of the C.C.Q., but may be under the terms of a contractual provision. Likewise, a party may, at the time that a contract is concluded, undertake to fulfil its obligations even if it is subject to a situation of superior force. In so doing, it waives the right to invoke such grounds for exemption in advance. The parties may also provide for steps to be taken in order to benefit from a contractual provision governing superior force, such as the sending of a notice within a stipulated time limit. The usual provision dealing with superior force requires the party invoking it to send a notice to the other party justifying its use of the provision. Failure to send such notice within the prescribed time limit may result in the affected party being barred from availing itself of the superior force provision. It is therefore particularly important for a party to pay close attention to the formalities and other requirements set out in the contract when invoking such a provision. A contract may additionally contain a provision that determines what effects the occurrence of an event considered as superior force will have. For example, the parties may agree that superior force will result in the termination, suspension or modification of an obligation, such as the proportional adjustment of a minimum volume to be delivered. Finally, the parties to a contract may set out the consequences of unforeseen and external situations that do not, strictly speaking, make the performance of an obligation impossible. For instance, the parties may anticipate the risk of an unexpected increase in the cost of an input by means of a hardship clause. A matter of sound foresight, such a clause may have significant consequences in the current situation, even if it does not specifically address superior force. Conclusion A superior force situation and the exercise of the rights that may result from it must be analyzed with the following in mind: A case-by-case analysis is required for each situation. Other legal concepts may apply depending on the circumstances, such as the duty of good faith of the parties to a contract, the duty to minimize damage, and the duty to demonstrate the absence of an alternative. Business risks or reputation risks may apply to both the party wishing to invoke superior force and the party against whom it is invoked. A review of the terms and conditions of the parties’ insurance policies, which may provide compensation for financial losses, may also be appropriate.   Article 1470 C.C.Q. Article 1693 C.C.Q. Article 1694 C.C.Q. This is opposed to obligations qualified as “of result” or “of means,” for which the debtor may be released by reason of superior force.

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  • The exercise of custody and access rights in the era of COVID‑19: “There will be no easy answers”

    The Ontario Superior Court of Justice refuses to suspend a father’s access rights to his child and specifies the criteria for determining the urgency to intervene in family matters  The global crisis we are going through brings its share of challenges and worries, including the protection of our loved ones. Several parents wonder about the protective measures to be taken and the advisability of maintaining the arrangements for shared custody or access with the non-custodial parent. Should these modalities be maintained despite the present crisis or, on the contrary, should they be suspended because of the social distancing requirements? The Ontario Superior Court of Justice rendered the first published Canadian judgment which sheds light on these important issues and bring guidance not only to Ontarian parents and lawyers but to those across the country, including in Quebec. Moreover, a judgment rendered recently in Quebec puts forward the principles established in the Ontario judgement. In Ribeiro v Wright1, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice was seized of an urgent motion brought by the Mother of a 9-year-old boy to suspend all in-person access with his father because of COVID-19. The mother was concerned that the father would not maintain social distancing for the child during periods of access while she and her family were practicing social isolation in their home for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. She did not want her son leaving her house for any reason, including seeing his father. In his judgment of March 23, 2020, Justice A. Pazaratz of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice did not authorize this matter to proceed on an urgent basis but explained his reasons in detail. First of all, the Court insisted that the health, safety and well-being of children and families remained its foremost consideration during the COVID-19 crisis which is an extremely difficult and stressful period for everyone. Orders should be respected and complied with In the above-mentioned case, the Court stressed that there was an existing custody and access judgment. Justice Pazaratz insisted that there is a presumption that all judgments should be respected and complied with even during the COVID-19 crisis and that an existing judgment granting custody or access rights to parents reflects a determination that meaningful personal contact with both parents is in the child’s best interest. As a general rule, existing parenting arrangements and schedules should continue, subject to whatever modifications may be necessary to ensure that all COVID-19 precautions are adhered to, including strict social distancing.  The Court indicated that in “many respects we are going to have to put our lives “on hold” until COVID-19 is resolved. But children’s lives – and vitally important family relationships – cannot be placed “on hold” indefinitely without risking serious emotional harm and upset”. In the Court’s opinion, a general policy that children should never leave their primary residence, even to visit their other parent, would be inconsistent with a comprehensive analysis of the best interests of the child. In some cases, parents may have to forego temporarily their time with their child, for example in the following cases:  When a parent is under self-isolation for a 14-day period as a result of recent travel; Because of personal illness or exposure to illness; Because of a parent’s personal risk factors (for example through employment); The Court insisted, however, that there would be zero tolerance for any parent who recklessly exposes a child (or members of the child’s household) to any COVID-19 risk, such as failure to comply with social distancing or to take reasonable health precautions. Justice Pazaratz acknowledged that each family will have its own unique issues and complications, that temporary changes may be required and that there will be no easy answers but “no matter how difficult the challenge, for the sake of the child we have to find ways to maintain important parental relationships – and above all, we have to find ways to do it safely.” Justice Pazaratz called upon the parents to act responsibly and try to attempt some simple problem-solving before they initiate urgent court proceedings. The Court mentioned that despite extremely limited resources during this crisis, it would always prioritize cases involving children. If parents have concerns that COVID-19 creates an urgent issue in relation to custody and access arrangement, they may initiate an emergency motion but should not presume that the existence of the COVID-19 crisis will automatically result in a suspension of access or custody time nor that it will necessarily result in an urgent hearing. The Court indicates that it will deal with COVID-19 custody and access issues on a case-by-case basis according to the following test which will be used to determine whether it is urgent for the Court to intervene:  The parent initiating an urgent motion on this topic will be required to provide specific evidence or examples of behavior or plans by the other parent which are inconsistent with COVID-19 protocols; The parent responding to such an urgent motion will be required to provide specific and absolute reassurance that COVID-19 safety measures will be meticulously adhered to – including social distancing, use of disinfectants, compliance with public safety directives, etc.; Both parents will be required to provide very specific and realistic time-sharing proposals which fully address all COVID-19 considerations, in a child-focused manner; Judges will likely take judicial notice of the fact that social distancing is now becoming both commonplace and accepted, given the number of public facilities which have now been closed. This is a very good time for both custodial and access parents to spend time with their child at home. Justice Pazaratz dismissed the mother’s urgent motion as he was not satisfied that she had established a failure, inability or refusal by the father to adhere to appropriate COVID-19 protocols in the future. The judge concluded that “none of us have ever experienced anything like this. We are all going to have to try a bit harder – for the sake of our children.” The Superior Court of Quebec confirms that as a general rule the status quo must be maintained The judgment Droit de la famille - 204742 rendered on March 27, 2020, the Superior Court of Quebec applied essentially the same principles as those set out in the above-mentioned Ontario decision, namely that :  The existing custody or access orders are maintained allowing the child to benefit from the presence of both parents; A parent wishing to suspend existing orders must establish: the urgency of his request; sufficient grounds; A parent's living environment that threatens the health or safety of the children, or presents symptoms of the disease, may constitute sufficient grounds; Both parents must comply with the health and safety directives; This decision indicates that for the Superior Court of Quebec, as for the Superior Court of Ontario, existing judgments on custody and access must be maintained, except when there is a concrete risk to the child’s health because of one of the parents’ behaviour or living environment, which may give an opening to a modification. Parental authority to be exercised jointly by both parents Furthermore, it is worth noting that in Quebec parental authority allows parents to jointly take decisions relating to their child even when they no longer live together, except in the rare cases where a parent is deprived of this right by a judgment of the court. Thus, regardless of the applicable custody arrangement, both parents must consult each other on any matter of importance relating to the child, in particular with regards to his health. Before making an important decision regarding the health of a child, a parent should consult with the other parent and discuss the best options under the circumstances. Professionals to help you see more clearly In summary, we are living in an exceptional situation that requires flexibility and understanding on the part of each parent while complying with the directives issued with respect to COVID-19. If you have any doubts or concerns about your child's situation, or if your discussions with the other parent prove fruitless, it may be helpful to consult with professionals to determine the best course of action in the circumstances. Our Family, Personal and Estate Law team remains available and fully functional to assist you, advise you and take the legal steps required in the best interest of your child.   2020 ONSC 1829, available online: http://canlii.ca/t/j60jj. 2020 QCCS 1051.

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  • COVID-19 - Flexibility in the Federal Work-Sharing Program: A Solution for Retaining Your Human Capital?

    In order to best support our clients and business partners, our team is following developments related to COVID-19 very closely. We invite you to visit on our website the page that centralizes all of the tools and information produced by our professionals. There is a concern that simply laying off employees could lead to companies experiencing a major loss of expertise and skill. This expertise will be essential to rebuilding after the end of the crisis, a time that for many will be the greatest challenge in the history of their organization. Organizations recognize that employees have value over and above their skills. They have acquired an in-depth understanding of the company’s goals and operations. They have established a relationship of trust with the company, a network of contacts, and a certain degree of autonomy, to name only a few examples. These make all the difference. We are working with many employers to identify solutions designed to protect this invaluable asset during this unprecedented crisis. The latest government announcements, which include provisions for increased wage subsidies for some companies, are certainly a positive response to current concerns and realities. Other programs with solutions that might be of interest include: New Flexibility in the Federal Work-Sharing Program The federal government has recently established measures to increase the flexibility of the Work-Sharing program (“WS”), which has been the subject of many questions from both employers and employees. Considering the frequent changes made to various government programs, it is possible that by the time you read this, some information may no longer be up to date. We therefore invite you to visit the Employment and Social Development Canada1 (“ESDC”) website or consult our labour and employment law professionals for more information. What is the Work-Sharing program (“WS”)? The goal of the program is to allow employers to keep all of their workers by reducing hours rather than laying off part of their workforce. This program may be a good option for employers who are facing a decrease in their normal level of operations due to COVID-19, but who still have some work for their employees in a reduced capacity.  During the program’s implementation period, available work is redistributed equally among employees in one or more work units.  The employer submits an application and fills out the form outlining the agreement between the employer, the affected employees and their representative, through which the employees voluntarily accept a reduction in their work hours and the sharing of available work. In order to compensate for this reduction in income, the program allows workers who are part of the agreement to receive employment insurance benefits. Under the Employment Insurance Regulations2, remuneration received for a given week of work-sharing is not deducted from the benefits payable under the Employment Insurance Act3. For companies that are directly or indirectly affected by the decline in business due to the current situation, the program’s duration is a minimum of six weeks and a maximum of 76 weeks. The reduction in employees’ regular work schedules must be between a minimum of 10% and a maximum of 60% on average during the period of the agreement. We invite you to visit the ESDC website or consult with our professionals to obtain more information about the eligibility criteria and the general requirements of the program. What Are the New Measures Related to COVID-19? On March 25, due to the downturn caused by COVID-19, the federal government updated its temporary special measures regarding the WS program, including the following, which: Reduce the requirements associated with preparing the application and the attachments. Starting now and until further notice, employers are no longer required to submit: The recovery plan, Attachment B, which used to be required, has been removed and replaced with a single line in the text of the application; Sales and/or production data from the last two years; Broaden program eligibility to include companies that have only been operating for a year, instead of the usual two years; Remove the required waiting period in between WS applications. How to Submit an Application and the Expected Processing Times Following the recent changes made to the program, there is now a simplified way to submit the application. Employers must fill out the following forms, which have been revised by the federal government: Revised form: Application for a Work-Sharing Agreement (EMP5100) Form - Attachment A (revised): Work-Sharing Unit (EMP5101) For businesses located in Quebec, the application must be sent to the following email address: [email protected] As of the date this bulletin was written, the ESDC website that provides information on the special measures implemented due to COVID-19 does not specify the amount of time it will take to process applications. However, it does indicate that employers are now asked to submit their applications 10 calendar days before the requested program start date, and that Service Canada will endeavour to reduce processing time to 10 calendar days. Before COVID-19, employers had to send their Work-Sharing application (and the supporting documents) 30 calendar days before the requested start date. Due to the major increase in applications, the federal government now has nine (9) processing centres in Canada for the purpose of processing WS applications and has the additional capacity to further support employers who have questions. A new email address has been created for the purpose of handling requests for information about the WS program: [email protected] Conclusion Considering the constant changes, we invite you to consult our labour and employment law professionals to ensure that your decisions are in conformity with the various government programs. The federal government may further increase the flexibility of the program’s conditions and wait times. If necessary, we will keep you informed of any changes to the program with future updates. It is also important to note that there are other kinds of programs that could be of interest in the current situation, such as the Supplemental Unemployment Benefit Program, which allows employers to increase their employees’ weekly earnings when they are unemployed due to a temporary stoppage of work or quarantine. If the conditions are met and the plan is registered with Service Canada, the amounts paid by the employer are not deducted from employees’ employment insurance benefits4. The Lavery team is available to help you implement measures and determine the best way to endure this crisis, protect your organization and prepare to return to normal.   See also https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/corporate/notices/coronavirus.html#h4.01. Employment Insurance Regulations, DORS/96-332, subsection 47(1) and section 49. Employment Insurance Act, S.C. 1996, c. 23. Employment Insurance Regulations, supra note 1, subsection 37(1).

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  • COVID-19: How to adapt your current tax planning?

    The spread of COVID-19 is having a considerable negative effect on the global economy. Several tax planning strategies adapted to the current situation can be considered in order to mitigate the impact. Tax planning for individuals helps to (i) reduce the taxes payable upon death, (ii) encourage intergenerational business transfers, and (iii) maximize the use of the capital gains deduction, through a trust or otherwise. For businesses in the current economic crisis, creativity and strategic vision are needed. In this context, certain tax plans will allow businesses to (i) maximize liquidity, (ii) reduce a corporate group’s taxes payable in the short term, (iii) optimize the use of losses, and (iv) bring about major tax savings in the long term. Here are a few examples of tax plans that are particularly appropriate for the current situation: Employee stock option plans Reviewing strike prices Strategies for using the capital dividend account Strategies for using losses within a corporate group, including: Intragroup management fees Loans between corporations Amalgamation or liquidation of business corporations Deferral of taxes on imports Recovering the GST/QST on bad debts Strategies to increase the fiscal cost of certain corporate assets and shares Estate freeze in order to lower taxes upon death Estate thawing and refreezing Applicable to a previous freeze whose value exceeds the current value Planning with regard to the rule of the average cost of identical properties Income splitting Leaving Canada Dismantling or creating legal entities to facilitate tax planning These plans are particularly effective in a context of economic downturn and a decrease in the fair market value of investments and assets. It is therefore important to act quickly.  Our taxation team is available to answer all of your questions about establishing a tax plan to suit your needs.

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  • How to be a Good Franchisor in the COVID-19 Era?

    In recent weeks, and especially in recent days, we have seen the serious repercussions of the spread of COVID-19 on Quebec businesses and SMEs. Government authorities are planning financial assistance measures for businesses, and some chambers of commerce have already announced that new services will soon be offered to businesses to help them deal with the crisis. We are as yet unaware of the details of this assistance and how it will be allocated.  In the meantime, what will happen to companies with a franchise business model that are required to meet certain financial undertakings and standards as part of their day-to-day operations? During these unpredictable and uncertain times, how can you be a good franchisor and support your franchisees? Assistance and guidance from franchisors is important in a situation like this. It can take different forms, some of which are described in this bulletin.  This is an extraordinary opportunity to show franchisees that you are a caring provider that considers the survival of their businesses to be a priority.  Here are a few suggestions for supporting your franchisees over the next few weeks, if not the next few months: Give them a temporary break from their financial obligations under the franchise agreement, both in terms of paying royalties and contributing to the advertising fund. In the short term, this will cause you to lose a source of income. However, it will ease the financial pressure on franchisees and allow them to get through this crisis and eventually return to normal operations. If your franchisees are lessees (whether they have a storefront or shopping centre lease), join them in their negotiations with the landlord to try to obtain temporary flexibility in the terms of their leases, such as a suspension of rent payments, a reduction of payable rent or a deferral of payments that will be spread out over several months once the effects of the COVID-19 crisis have subsided, since rental costs are generally a major expense for franchisees. On the other hand, if as a franchisor you are subletting premises to your franchisee, accept the risk of negotiating payment arrangements or taking on a portion of the rent to temporarily relieve the franchisee’s financial burden. Work in collaboration with franchisees to modify their services (take-out food, virtual workout program for gym clients, delivery, increase in online offerings, etc.) while respecting your standards and requirements in order to maintain consistency between the franchises. Allow your franchisees to temporarily cease operations or reduce business hours to minimize certain expenses such as payroll and supply (in this regard, we invite you to read The Coronavirus Guide for Employers: Everyday Measures for the Workplace). Revise some of your standards and policies and provide updates to be adopted by your franchisees (particularly for hygiene and sanitation). Take advantage of these turbulent times to develop new virtual training courses, encourage franchisees to participate in continuing training activities during this period by offering free webinars, or set up virtual brainstorming sessions to innovate and plan for after the COVID-19 pandemic. Temporarily share a portion of supplier rebates with your franchisees, if your franchise concept allows you to collect rebates directly with no obligation to remit them to the franchisees. Develop a marketing strategy for current services or a new temporary offering during the crisis in order to maintain brand visibility. For the benefit of your franchisees, renegotiate certain agreements with suppliers to get better services or rates (e.g. telephone service, internet, inventory, percentage discount on goods useful for operating the business). Facilitate your franchisees’ discussions with their financial institutions, which are currently sensitive to the tense financial situation of Quebec entrepreneurs and willing to find solutions. If you have an online sales platform, establish a policy that allows franchisees to benefit from it, at least temporarily, either by sharing a certain portion of revenues or, for example, delivering to the franchisee closest to the consumer. For franchisees that, tragically, will not have the financial capacity to overcome the crisis, support them through the end of their operations and transition, in order to minimize their losses. If necessary, offer your franchisees phone or virtual assistance and provide them with contacts who can answer their questions and support them. Provide the public with a general message on the status of your network’s products and services offering, and showcase your support to your franchisees in order to convey a clear and consistent message that will sustain your brand and approach. Most of these proposals involve a greater financial commitment on the part of the franchisor. However, it is important to remember that a franchisor has an obligation to collaborate and partner with its franchisees. Of course, no one is bound to achieve the impossible. A franchisor’s capacity to adequately support its franchisees during this difficult period will serve its interests and those of the network in the longer term. Assistance provided by the franchisor will allow more franchisees to survive and resume their activities when the situation improves. The franchisor’s support and, particularly, flexibility with respect to financial obligations arising from the franchise agreement will send a clear message to franchisees that they are not left to fend for themselves during this period of uncertainty, and a greater climate of trust will be established in your franchisor-franchisee relationship.  Moreover, all sectors of Quebec’s economy are affected by the pandemic and a solidarity movement is being established among institutions, financial partners and businesses to implement solutions and strategies to promote trade and the resumption of economic activities. We are following developments on a daily basis. Our franchising and distribution team and all our professionals are at your disposal and offer you their expertise in advising and supporting you in meeting the challenges that the current COVID-19 situation may create for your network. Please do not hesitate to contact us. It will be our pleasure to collaborate to find a solution that is right for YOU. It’s time to stand together!

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  • COVID-19: Update on Canadian IP

     The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) has made a further announcement concerning the extension of deadlines, to the effect that deadlines falling within March 16 to April 30, 2020 are extended to May 1, 2020. CIPO is otherwise still open for business and our intellectual property team members have been continuing operations and transacting with CIPO on a regular basis, in a remote and secure manner. Please do not hesitate to contact a member of our IP group should you have any questions. Rest assured that we remain at your service for all your legal needs, including those required to manage this pandemic, and that we will keep you informed as the situation evolves. We would like to offer our thoughts and support during these challenging times.

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  • Bill 37 and Preventive Disclosure of Tax Planning: Why and How?

    Bill 37, now known as the Act mainly to establish the Centre d’acquisitions gouvernementales and Infrastructures technologiques Québec, SQ 2020 c. 2,  was assented to on February 21, 2020. In particular, this act makes significant changes to the Act respecting contracting by public bodies, CQLR c. C-65.1, and its regulations. Our partners Laurence Bich-Carrière (civil and commercial litigation) and Marie-France Dompierre (tax litigation) have already discussed the impact of these changes in a publication, Bill 37: What changes can be expected for Public Contracts? published on October 29, 2019. New tax measures – Deadline to file a late preventive disclosure From now on, a penalty on a final assessment under the general anti-avoidance rule against a company or a person related to the company in respect of an abusivetax avoidance transaction1  will result in the company being added to the Register of Enterprises Ineligible for Public Contracts (the “REIN”) for a period of five years. The promoter of such a transaction may also be added to the REIN if subject to the same penalty. In order to avoid being added to the REIN, taxpayers who have engaged in tax planning that may be deemed aggressive by the tax authorities normally had until April 21, 2020, to make a late preventive disclosure to the Minister of Revenue2 by filing the form Mandatory or preventive disclosure of tax planning (TP-1079.DI) and a letter3 indicating that it is a late preventive disclosure. However, due to the present crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Revenu Québec has postponed certain deadline to June 1, 2020, specifically including preventive and mandatory disclosures of aggressive tax planning. The constitutionality of similar measures is currently being debated before Quebec courts.   Sections 1079.13.1 and 1079.13.2 of the Taxation Act, CQLR c. I-3. Section 1079.8.7.1 of the Taxation Act, CQLR c. I-3. Section 44 of the Act mainly to establish the Centre d’acquisitions gouvernementales and Infrastructures technologiques Québec, SQ 2020 c. 2.

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  • The Coronavirus Guide for Employers: Everyday Measures for the Workplace

    Employers must review their action plan on a daily basis to promote prevention, manage possible or proven contagion among their employees and ensure that business operations continue. Two actions are key: Seeking accurate information from public health officials and governments daily; Taking this information into account when deciding how to meet your obligations to employees while maintaining operations. With the stated objective of containing the spread of the coronavirus, each of us is responsible for adapting our behaviours to an evolving set of circumstances, particularly in the workplace. This new reality impacts the responsibilities of employers. New Directives from The Government of Quebec On March 12, 2020, the province declared a state of emergency and the Quebec government announced the following: All persons returning from abroad or having flu- or cold-like symptoms must voluntarily self-isolate for 14 days; Self-isolation is mandatory and paid for all public service employees and all private and public healthcare, education and daycare workers returning from abroad; Organizations must cancel all indoor gatherings of more than 250 people and any unnecessary gatherings for the next 30 days1. At his press conference, the Premier of Quebec invited private sector employers to take the particular situation facing our society into consideration and to be understanding with employees who must take time off work2. With these measures aimed particularly at establishing social distance to slow the spread of the virus, guidelines have been clarified and may serve as a basis for the needs and requirements of both employers and their employees, taking into account the particularities of each workplace. Obligations in the Workplace Employers must take the measures necessary to protect the health, safety and physical well-being of their employees, their clients and the public. Employees are held to the same standards; that is, to preserve their own health as well as that of their colleagues and any third parties they may be in contact with in the course of or in connection with their work. The Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, the Act Respecting Occupational Health and Safety, the Canada Labour Code and fundamental principles such as those set out in the Civil Code of Québec provide that individuals must not behave in a way that would cause increased harm to others. They must also act in such a way as not to harm their own health, and, by the same token, that of the people in their workplace. These principles are well known to human resource managers and are foundational to establishing workplace policies and guidelines. Policies and Guidelines for Employees In order to encourage employees to contribute to maintaining a healthy work environment free from contamination risks, employers should diligently inform their employees of their intention to follow government guidelines. Internal guidelines could include the following: Cancelling meetings or other non-essential work events that may promote the spread of the virus; Reminding employees of their obligation to report any situation that may require them to self-isolate; Establishing and informing employees of necessary arrangements should isolation become necessary and telework not be possible; Explaining the steps to follow to plan telework and reminding people of the applicable rules under existing policies and employment contracts regarding the confidentiality of business or personal information used in the workplace; Informing employees about of a contingency plan to define, among other things, emergency contact persons and information transmission protocols; and instructing employees on how to access workplace premises or organize their work in the event of a containment situation. Employee Travel and Professional Activities An employer may cancel any professional activity that could reasonably be expected to pose a risk to the health of its employees, clients or the public. In so doing, an organization modifies its expectations as to workplace deliverables. In the current context and further to the government guidelines issued on March 12, 2020, an employer should: Prohibit all business travel both to affected or unaffected areas; Ask its employees to hold essential meetings by videoconference or other technological means; Provide that any other meeting or professional activity in its offices or elsewhere be held in such a way as to reduce the risk of contagion (e.g., videoconferencing, conference calls, observance of hygiene measures and reasonable distances between people). Isolation of Diagnosed Employees or Preventive Isolation Further to the recommendations of public health authorities and on the basis of the government guidelines issued on March 12, 2020, an employer should require that any employee returning from abroad proceed to self-isolate for 14 days. If the employee shows symptoms before the end of the 14-day isolation period, he or she should contact the services set up by the Ministère de la Santé (1-877-644-4545). A nurse may then refer the employee to a designated COVID-19 clinic if necessary. Prior to permitting such an employee to return to work, an employer should be informed of the outcome of these steps and be satisfied that the employee will not pose a risk to colleagues and clients, which may include requesting a medical certificate from the designated COVID-19 clinic if the employee was referred to one. In the case of business travel at an employer’s request prior to the government directives issued on March 12, 2020, any self-isolation period should be paid. If the travel was personal, the payment and form of remuneration during the self-isolation period depends on certain factors, including: At what moment the decision to maintain the departure was made: before or after the government’s instructions were issued or an explicit employer policy was implemented; Positive or negative diagnosis further to a test; Capacity for telework while in isolation. Should employees be unable to report to work (due to their return from abroad, other reasonable grounds to believe that they may be a carrier, or if they or one of their relatives has tested positive), their employer should consider possible avenues under the employment conditions applicable to each particular employee: Paid leave or other conditions available under the Act respecting labour standards and working conditions or collective agreements in the organization, which must then be agreed upon with the employee in question and with the union’s cooperation, if applicable3; Group disability insurance benefits; Record of Employment for sickness and employment insurance sickness benefits; Quarantine and employment insurance benefits as a result of forced leave from work4; Record of Employment for leave and caregiving benefits; Telework if the employee’s tasks can be performed remotely or adapted to do so. Refusal to work The Act Respecting Occupational Health and Safety allows employees to refuse to perform work if they have reasonable grounds to believe that the performance of said work would expose them to danger for their health, safety or physical wellbeing, or would expose another person to similar danger. This Act also provides for the process by which such refusal must be dealt with. However, the prevention and management of work refusal situations could likely be greatly facilitated if employees are aware of the actions taken by the employer to prevent contamination and other health risks to those present in the workplace. For the protection of employees, suppliers and customers, employers must implement the sanitation measures prescribed by government authorities and make any necessary materials available. It must also encourage its employees to follow sanitation instructions and do the following: Provide access to dispensers for alcohol-based antiseptics, tissues and waste bins; Regularly clean common areas (e.g. meeting rooms, cafeteria, etc.); Provide contact information for Info-Santé and the Ministère de la Santé for additional information or screening. According to the government guidelines issued on March 12, 2020, for work premises that can accommodate 250 or more people, the premises must be prepared, or the number of people limited, or those present must be instructed to remain at least two metres away from each other. Work reorganization In order to maintain their activities and provide service to their clientele, some businesses may find it advantageous to alter the way in which their employees work. In addition to resorting to telework, employers may consider alternative working arrangements to maintain adequate staffing while reducing the risk of spreading the virus: Flexible or modified work schedules or staggered working hours (in accordance with the conditions set out in section 53 of the Act respecting labour standards); Rotating schedules to reduce the number of employees in the workplace at the same time; Solicitation of retirees who can fill absences owing to sickness. Immigration Currently, Canadian immigration authorities have put in place emergency measures for foreign nationals in Canada or abroad whose applications for temporary residence have been delayed because of the closure of Canadian visa application centres in mainland China (among other locations). Extensions have been granted to help applicants to obtain now hard-to-get documents. All other applications and all other components of the Canadian program are not affected at this time. No new medical tests for newcomers have been announced and no specific travel restrictions have yet been adopted, with the exception of self-isolation measures for all those arriving from abroad. Health Canada screening officers are present at some Canadian air and land ports of entry, but this measure is still minimally applied at this time. We expect further restrictions at Canadian ports of entry to be implemented in the coming days as the situation progresses. The Key: Keep your Information Up to Date It is important to make sure that the information that you rely on as an employer to make decisions in the current environment is reliable so that your employees can perform their work safely, and for you to continue offering service to your clients. Prudent HR managers should visit the websites of the competent government authorities to confirm the exact terms of the requirements and guidance that these provide. Each workplace operates in its own context, and employers would do well to plan for various possible solutions depending on their circumstances and considering their specific workforce and the needs of their clientele. The events of the last few days have shown that guidelines can change rapidly (even in the course of a day), especially when the spread of the coronavirus suddenly gains speed or following the directives issued by governments to promote “social distancing” as counter the impacts of a possible mass contamination. The diligent implementation of preventive measures and appropriate action as the situation evolves will help ensure, employers are being responsible while, effectively guarding against future civil or criminal claims. The members of our Labour and Employment and Business Immigration teams are available to answer any questions you may have about measures you are considering or the solutions you are seeking given the realities of your organization and its activities.   Press release on March 12, 2020. See the same Government of Quebec press release. Employee and union cooperation may be necessary if working conditions need to be adjusted at the employer’s request, which may wish to offer paid leave to cover part of the isolation period. The federal government recently amended the conditions applicable to quarantine to suspend the one-week waiting period before Employment Insurance benefits are paid..

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  • The 2020-2021 Quebec Budget: New Measures to Promote Innovation!

    Quebec’s Minister of Finance tabled his budget for 2020-2021, titled Your Future, your Budget1, on March 10. Among the new measures introduced by the government, new tax incentives for innovation and the commercialization of Quebec intellectual property were announced. The incentive deduction for the commercialization of innovations: establishing the most competitive tax rate in North America The Quebec government is committed to promoting research and development (R&D) and accelerating the development of innovative products through a highly competitive tax environment. The incentive deduction for the commercialization of innovations (the “IDCI”) will allow businesses to benefit from a combined tax rate of 17% on eligible income. Businesses that have an establishment in Quebec, have incurred R&D expenses there and commercialize intellectual property (“IP”) in Quebec will have their revenues from the sale or rental of goods, services and royalties from such IP taxed in Quebec at an effective rate of 2%. IP covered by the IDCI includes software protected by copyrights, patents, certificates of supplementary protection for drugs and plant breeders’ rights. The IDCI also replaces the deduction for innovative companies as ofJanuary 1, 2021. Companies eligible for that deduction will be eligible for the IDCI. The synergy capital tax credit: investing in start-ups The synergy capital tax credit is designed to encourage businesses to invest in innovative SMBs with high growth potential, more commonly known as “start-ups.” A business corporation with a permanent establishment in Quebec that is not primarily engaged in financing or investing in businesses may receive a non-refundable tax credit equal to 30% of the value of its eligible investment, up to a maximum of $750,000 per year, for a total tax credit of $225,000 per year. An eligible investment is an equity participation that does not result in control of an eligible SMB, which the investing corporation deals with at arm’s length. An eligible SMB is a Canadian-controlled private corporation with a permanent establishment in Quebec, with paid-up capital of less than $15 million and gross income of less than $10 million, operating in one of the following sectors: Green technology; Information technology; Life sciences; Innovative manufacturing; Artificial intelligence. Corporations claiming the synergy capital tax credit will have to hold the shares of the eligible SMB for a minimum period of 5 years. Start-ups interested in obtaining the designation of eligible SMB will have to submit an application to Investissement Québec. The investment and innovation tax credit: Modernizing SMBs The investment and innovation tax credit (the “C3i”) is designed to encourage businesses in all sectors to invest in their modernization, particularly in digitization and the use of leading-edge technology. A credit of 10%, 15% or 20%, determined according to the economic vitality index of the area where the investments are made, will be applicable for the acquisition of: Manufacturing and processing equipment; Computer hardware; Management software packages. The C3i will apply to acquisitions made before January 1, 2025, and will be fully refundable for SMBs2. Businesses with total assets and gross income of $100 million or more will also have access to this credit, although it will not be refundable. Eligible expenses for the C3i will be amounts exceeding $5,000 for the acquisition of computer hardware or management software packages and amounts exceeding $12,500 for the acquisition of manufacturing and processing equipment. Businesses involved in the distribution of such hardware and software packages would certainly benefit from informing their customers that the acquisition of their products is potentially eligible for the C3i. Businesses located in resource regions and still benefiting from the tax credit to foster the acquisition of manufacturing and processing equipment introduced in 2008 will be able to choose to continue to benefit from this credit or claim the C3i. Conclusion Quebec’s tax landscape is full of opportunities for innovators and creators of leading-edge technology. We should also mention the enhancement of R&D tax credits that promote collaboration between private businesses and research institutions that contribute to the vitality of Quebec’s knowledge economy. If you are a company involved in R&D and IP commercialization in Quebec, the professionals of Lavery’s intellectual property and taxation teams will be able to support you throughout your projects.   Ministère des Finances, Budget 2020-2021, “Your Future, your Budget,” City of Québec, Government of Quebec The credit repayment rate decreases linearly based on an SMB’s total assets and gross income when they exceed $50 million but are less than $100 million.

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  • Development of a legal definition of artificial intelligence: different countries, different approaches

    As our society begins to embrace artificial intelligence, many governments are having to deal with public concern as well as the ongoing push to harness these technologies for the public good. The reflection is well underway in many countries, but with varying results. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is currently consulting with experts to make recommendations to Parliament, the purpose being to determine whether specific privacy rules should apply to artificial intelligence. In particular, should Canada adopt a set of rules similar to European rules (GDPR)? Another question raised in the process is the possibility of adopting measures similar to those proposed in the Algorithmic Accountability Act of 2019 bill introduced to the U.S. Congress, which would give the U.S. Federal Trade Commission the power to force companies to assess risks related to discrimination and data security for AI systems. The Commission d’accès à l’information du Québec is also conducting similar consultations. The Americans, in their approach, appear to also be working on securing their country’s position in the AI market. On August 9, 2019, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released a draft government action plan in response to a Presidential Executive Order. Entitled U.S. LEADERSHIP IN AI: A Plan for Federal Engagement in Developing Technical Standards and Related Tools1, the plan calls for the development of new robust technologies to make AI solutions more reliable and standardized norms for such technologies. Meanwhile, on November 21, 2019, the Congressional Research Service published an updated version of its report entitled Artificial Intelligence and National Security2. It presents a reflection on the military applications of artificial intelligence, and, in particular, on the fact that various combat devices have the capacity to carry out lethal attacks autonomously. It also looks at ways to counter deep fakes, specifically by developing technology to uncover what could become a means of disinformation. The idea is thus to bank on technological progress to thwart misused technology. In Europe, further to consultations completed in May 2019, the Expert Group on Liability and New Technologies published a report for the European Commission entitled Liability for Artificial Intelligence3, which looks into liability laws that apply to such technology.  The group points out that, except for matters involving personal information (GDPR) and motor vehicles, the liability laws of member states aren’t standardized throughout Europe. One of its recommendations is to standardize such liability laws. In its view, comparable risks should be covered by similar liability laws4. Earlier, in January 2019, the Consultative Committee of the Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data published its Guidelines on Artificial Intelligence and Data Protection5,whichincludes recommendations to comply with human rights conventions not only for lawmakers, but for developers, manufacturers and service providers using such technology as well. Even with these different approaches, one fundamental question remains: If special rules are to be adopted, to which technologies should they be applied? This is one of the main questions that the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is posing. In other words, what is artificial intelligence? The term is not clearly defined from a technological standpoint. It covers a multitude of technologies with diverse characteristics and operating modes. This is the first issue that lawmakers will have to address if they wish to develop a legal framework specific to AI. The document of the European expert group mentioned above gives us some points to consider that we believe to be relevant. In the group’s view, when qualifying a technology, the following factors should be taken into consideration: Its complexity; Its opacity; Its openness to interaction with other technologies; Its degree of autonomy; The predictability of its results; The degree to which it is data-driven; Its vulnerability to cyber attacks and risks. These factors help to identify, on a case-by-case basis, the risks inherent to different technologies. In general, we think it preferable to not adopt a rigid set of standards that apply to all technologies. We rather suggest identifying legislative goals in terms of characteristics that may be found in many different technologies. For example, some deep learning technologies use personal information, while others require little or no such information. They can, in some cases, make decisions on their own, while in others, they will only help to do so. Finally, some technologies are relatively transparent and others more opaque, due in part to technological or commercial constraints. For developers, it becomes important to properly label a potential technology in order to measure the risks its commercialization involves. More specifically, it may be important to consult with legal experts from different backgrounds to ensure that the technology in question isn’t completely incompatible with applicable laws or soon to be adopted ones in the various jurisdictions where it is to be rolled out.   https://www.nist.gov/system/files/documents/2019/08/10/ai_standards_fedengagement_plan_9aug2019.pdf https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R45178.pdf https://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regexpert/index.cfm?do=groupDetail.groupMeetingDoc&docid=36608 Ibid, p. 36. https://rm.coe.int/guidelines-on-artificial-intelligence-and-data-protection/168091f9d8

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  • Constant supervision: how does the recent court decision impact CPEs, daycare centres and home childcare providers?

    On January 15, 2020, the Court of Québec handed down an important decision that could have an impact very quickly on the entire childcare network.1. In its ruling dealing with a breach of the obligation to provide constant supervision of the children, the court questioned the concept of auto-pauses (also known as pauses jumelées or pauses autogérées). This widespread practice consists of having a single childcare staff member, usually an educator, temporarily supervise two groups of napping children to allow another childcare staff member to go on a break. The court took advantage of the opportunity to delimit the obligation of constant supervision set out in section 100 of the Educational Childcare Regulation2 (The “Regulation”), awhich applies indiscriminately to all childcare providers: the centres de la petite enfance (CPEs), daycare centres and home childcare providers. Finally, the court made some interesting comments on the calculation of the ratios, although this was not a central issue in the dispute. The court’s reasons and comments will likely lead childcare providers to question the organization of their work, their practices, directives and even their individual or collective work agreements. Decision Facts In April 2018, an inspector from the Ministère de la Famille visited a CPE to conduct a full inspection for the renewal of its permit, and to deal with a complaint about child supervision during naps. In the afternoon, the inspector entered a room and found seven children lying on small mats scattered on the floor. Some of them were not sleeping and no educator was present. However, in an adjacent room, an educator was sitting along the back wall. This second room had ten other children, also lying down for a nap. The evidence showed that an observation window separated the two rooms, which were also connected by a shared bathroom. The court noted that it was impossible at that time for the educator to get a full view of the adjacent room, in particular, because of the furniture that was dispersed about the room and partially obstructed the view. A statement of offence for failure to maintain constant supervision was issued to the CPE, although the practice of placing two groups under the supervision of a single educator at nap time, to allow a colleague to take a break, is a well-known practice. The concept of constant supervision To date, there are very few decisions dealing with the concept of constant supervision in a childcare context. The court, therefore, used this opportunity to consider this concept in greater detail [translation]: « [23] The CPE [...] must ensure that the children to whom childcare is provided are constantly supervised for their safety; [24] The French adjective constante [constant] is defined in the Larousse dictionary as follows: [translation] that which is uninterrupted, continuous; durable. [25] Le Petit Druide des synonymes et des antonymes has the following synonyms for the adjective constante: [translation] continual, continuous, at every moment, unceasing, uninterrupted, perpetual, without end. The antonyms are: [translation] discontinuous, intermittent, irregular. [26] The Larousse dictionary defines the French word surveiller [to supervise] as the act of observing attentively. In the decision in Directeur des poursuites criminelles et pénales c. Centre de la petite enfance (CPE) Le petit sentier, Judge Rivest noted that it is the action of watching over someone in one’s care and/or for whom one is responsible, taking care of them, being attentive. [27] There are few reported decisions dealing with this issue. Based on the decisions filed with the pleadings, the Court finds that the adequacy of the supervision depends on the specific facts of each case. [28] Since young children are involved in this case, the Court finds that this supervision must be visual and auditory to be effective. (References omitted) Applying this reasoning to the facts in this case, the court found, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the children in the group for which there was momentarily no educator were not under constant, but rather “intermittent", supervision. Due diligence and the auto-pause concept At trial, the CPE presented a so-called "due diligence" defence, arguing that all reasonable precautions were taken to avoid committing the offence. In particular, it referred to an internal memo sent to all the employees on how to proceed during an auto-pause. According to the memo, educators must be near the observation window and walk regularly between the two rooms to verify the children’s status. In the event that a child wakes up, the instruction is then to respond to his or her needs promptly and engage in a quiet game with the child in order to respect the other children’s nap time. The CPE demonstrated that this directive had been communicated to all the staff and that it was regularly discussed at meetings. In addition, a pedagogical adviser ensured that this rule was respected. The failure to comply with this obligation could result in disciplinary sanctions up to and including dismissal. Despite the foregoing, the court rejected the CPE’s due diligence defence. It stated that in the context of an auto-pause, the directive was not able to bring the CPE into compliance with the Educational Childcare Act3 (the “Act”). It was in fact inevitable, in the court's view, that the educator would have to attend to a specific child at some point in time and would no longer be able to see what was happening in the other room. The court concluded by adding that a reasonable person placed in the same circumstances should provide for a sufficient quantity of staff to replace the educators during their breaks. On this point, it noted that [translation] “the children's safety must take precedence over the economic interests of the [childcare] service providers”4. Furthermore, it stated that, despite the CPE's efforts to ensure compliance with its directives, it was the auto-pause concept itself that was problematic and, in the court’s words, [translation] “completely inappropriate”5. Thus, the CPE was convicted of breaching the obligation of constant supervision of the children and ordered to pay a fine. What is the impact with respect to the organization of work for childcare providers? The court’s decision will likely raise doubts about the organization of work for many childcare service providers, particularly permit holders who make use of the auto-pause concept. However, the ramifications could be much more far-reaching. Level of supervision We can easily imagine that the issue of adequate supervision could give rise to many challenges on a daily basis. The court indicated that such supervision must be auditory and visual, but may also vary depending on the circumstances. The analysis of a situation could therefore be influenced by various things, such as the premises (private residence, facility, park, etc.), their layout (presence of furniture, size of openings, etc.), the location of the workers and children while services are being provided, and the nature of the activities conducted. Given the court’s requirement that the supervision must be both visual and auditory, the assessment of its adequacy would seem to be all the more likely to raise questions for home childcare providers and compliance officers in coordinating offices who conduct visits to monitor these providers. Calculating ratios It should be noted that the offence with which the CPE was charged in this case did not concern compliance with the ratios provided for under the Act for the number of children to childcare staff that are required to be present on the premises during the provision of services. The issue before the court was strictly to determine whether the CPE was providing constant supervision of the two groups of children at the time of the inspection. While the court stated that it would reserve its comments on the question of the ratio, it nevertheless clearly added that it did not agree with the CPE’s interpretation of the number of childcare staff that were needed to care for the children in its facility. Thus, despite the fact that the educators could not leave the facility during their breaks, the court noted that by ordering the educators to split their time between two rooms, the CPE was disregarding the ratios provided for in the Act. Thus, the court's view was evidently that the ratios set out in section 21 of the Act would apply to each group of children, and could not be calculated as a whole, across the entire facility. The auto-pause concept In light of the specific facts submitted as evidence, the court found that the very concept of auto-pause is inappropriate. While some might therefore be tempted to conclude that all auto-pauses should be abolished, or that they are necessarily illegal, it should be remembered that each situation must be analyzed separately, based on its specific circumstances. Thus, a permit holder may still be able to show that they are in compliance with their obligation of constant supervision, for example, through a combination of adequate premises, resources, work instructions and protocols. This being said, the fact that the court has raised doubts about the very concept of the auto-pause will necessarily lead permit holders to question the organization of their work. In a context in which the court relies, inter alia, on its own calculation of the ratios applicable to the group of children, it could be even more complex for permit holders to determine the scope of their obligations. The same thing can be said for the manner in which they will be able to meet their obligations taking into account their mission, budget, human and material resources, individual or collective work agreements, and the specific needs of the children in their care. Conclusion The decision rendered by the Court of Québec on January 15, 2020 sheds light on the notion of constant supervision in the context of the provision of childcare services. Thus, to ensure that they are in compliance with their obligations and avoid penal or administrative penalties, it may be appropriate for childcare providers to review the organization of their work. A notice of appeal of this decision was filed on February 14, 2020 by the CPE. We will keep you informed of further developments. Should you wish to obtain further information on this topic, or discuss possible solutions for your own situation, please do not hesitate to contact our team of professionals.   Directeur des poursuites criminelles et pénales c. Centre de la petite enfance Soulanges (CPE Soulanges), C.Q. Beauharnois, 760-61-124110-199, January 15, 2020 (hereinafter DPCP c. CPE Soulanges). CQLR, c. S-4.1.1, r. 2. CQLR, c. S-4.1.1. DPCP c. CPE Soulanges, para. 42. Idem, para. 45.

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  • Three key points about the Regulation respecting damage insurance brockerage

    On December 13, 2019, the Regulation respecting damage insurance brokerage (the “Regulation”), adopted under the Act respecting the distribution of financial products and services (“ARDFPS”), came into force. The Regulation includes the following changes: New titles for firms and qualification requirements; New obligations for damage insurance brokers; and New disclosure requirements New titles for firms and qualification requirements The Regulation amends the Regulation respecting the registration of firms, representatives and independent partnerships by creating two new titles, namely “damage insurance brokerage firm” (hereinafter “Brokerage Firm”) and “damage insurance agency” (hereinafter “Agency”). To qualify as a Brokerage Firm, a firm must meet the following conditions: It must not be an insurer; and Its capital must comply with section 150 of the ARDFPS, which stipulates that no financial institution, financial group or related legal person may hold an interest allowing it to exercise more than 20% of the voting rights attached to the shares issued by the firm in question or an interest representing more than 50% of the value of the firm’s equity capital. To qualify as an Agency, a firm must meet the following conditions: It must be bound by an exclusive contract with a single insurer; and The natural persons through whom it pursues activities, if any, must be damage insurance agents. It should be noted that neither an independent representative nor an independent partnership may act as an Agency. As for a firm that does not meet the conditions to qualify as a Brokerage Firm, it must register as an Agency and abide by the conditions that apply to Agencies. Firms registered in damage insurance have until March1, 2020, to submit a qualification form to the Autorité des marchés financiers (“AMF”). The AMF has confirmed that it will send one of the following notices to all registrants by mid-March 2020: A notice confirming registration as an Agency or Brokerage Firm; or A notice of change giving the firm in question ninety (90) days to comply as an Agency. When the 90-day period expires, if applicable, the firm will be registered as an Agency, and the title of its representatives will be changed to “agent,” unless they are attached to another Brokerage Firm. Such representatives will not be allowed to hold the titles of “agent” and “broker” at the same time. New obligations for damage insurance brokers Section 38 of the ARDFPS provides that a damage insurance broker offering insurance products directly to the public must be able to demonstrate the ability to obtain quotes from at least three (3) insurers that are not part of the same financial group. Section 1 of the Regulation specifies that this obligation applies to brokers offering automobile or home insurance products (property and civil liability insurance on a principal residence that an insured owns or rents). This means that commercial insurance brokers are not subject to this obligation. New disclosure requirements A damage insurance broker who directly offers automobile or home insurance products, as described above, to the public, is now subject to a disclosure obligation. According to section 2 of the Regulation, before inquiring into a client’s needs in accordance with the obligation set out in section 27 of the ARDFPS, a broker must disclose to the client the name of the insurer to which the broker, as an independent representative, or the firm or independent partnership on behalf of which the broker is acting pays 60% or more of the personal-lines damage insurance premiums. This requirement exempts a broker from disclosing the names of insurers with which the broker or the firm or independent partnership on behalf of which the broker is acting has a business relationship, and from the obligation to confirm said disclosure in writing (obligations set out in sections 4.8, 4.10(2) and 4.13 of the Regulation respecting information to be provided to consumers). Summary The amendments regarding firm qualification and disclosure requirements are intended to ensure transparency with respect to business relationships between registrants and insurers. The draft version and current version of the Regulation differ significantly in relation to the way in which these two components are set out. Following consultation sessions and various publications, the disclosure obligation was eased and the concept of hybrid agency was removed. Although the change in qualification only directly affects firms, the form issued by the AMF must be completed by all registrants, including independent partnerships and independent representatives, to confirm that they comply with the requirements that apply to them. All damage insurance registrants should thus take note of and set aside time for the AMF online qualification form, which must be completed by March 1, 2020, at the latest.

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  • Bill 141: Checklist on insurance products offered via the internet and distribution without a representative

    Download your checklist A major reform of the financial sector and, more specifically, of the standards surrounding the practice of professionals governed by the Autorité des marchés financiers (the “AMF”) is now applicable under the Act mainly to improve the regulation of the financial sector, the protection of deposits of money and the operation of financial institutions1, formerly known as Bill 141. One of the main goals of this reform is to offer greater protection to consumers by providing a framework for online insurance product offers and for distribution without a representative. This framework is provided for in the Regulation respecting Alternative Distribution Methods (the “RADM”)2. Considering that 60 laws are amended by Bill 141, many of which apply to insurance firms3 and insurers4, it is important to be well informed of your key obligations in order to navigate through this transition. Here is what you need to know: The obligations of insurance firms for insurance products offered via the internet5 If you offer insurance products online, as of June 13, 2019, you must comply with the following: Information to be provided to the AMF Before offering a product online: The information about your “digital space” The information about the products you offer The insurers whose products are offered Annually: The number of insurance policies issued The amount of premiums written through your digital space The number of cases where clients cancelled their insurance contracts Information to be provided to the client: At all times: Make the means to interact with a representative of the firm visible The information must be presented in a clear, readable, specific and non misleading way Make readily accessible through your digital space: The name, contact details, sectors and AMF registration number of the firm The information on where the client can file a complaint and the summary of the complaint processing policy A specimen of the policy for each product offered and any available endorsement, if applicable6 Before a contract is entered into: The name and contact information of the insurer offering the product The product coverage, exclusions and limitations The warnings about the consequences of misrepresentation or concealment The premiums, and other fees and expenses, including applicable taxes The period of validity of the quote Immediately before a contract is entered into: The information collected from the client and the options and conditions the client has chosen As soon as a contract is entered into: Confirmation that the contract has been entered into and the temporary insurance, if applicable The right of rescission and the procedures for exercising it The way in which the policy will be provided to the client Obligations specific to the operation of the digital space: Ensure the proper operation and reliability of your digital space at all times Require an action from the client each time confirmation or consent is needed Detect and automatically suspend or terminate an action initiated on the digital space if the information provided may lead to an inappropriate result or the client does not meet the product eligibility criteria Enable the client to correct a mistake at any time prior to entering into a contract Where the firm offers an insurance of persons contract that is likely to replace another contract and is unable to proceed with the replacement through its digital space, the firm must interrupt such offer, and provide the information as it would have been done in the presence of a representative7 Suspend the action initiated through the digital space when no representative can interact immediately with a client who asks to interact with a representative Ensure that the information provided by the client is kept in a manner that ensures its confidentiality and security Prohibitions It is forbidden, through your digital space: To present advertising unrelated to the product offered To automatically make a choice for the client regarding the products offered To exclude or limit your liability to the client relating to the proper operation or reliability of your digital space or the accuracy of the information presented thereon Obligations of insurers for insurance products offered through a distributor8 A distributor is a person who, in pursuing activities in a field other than insurance, offers, as an accessory, for an insurer, an insurance product which relates solely to goods sold by the person or secures a client’s adhesion in respect of such an insurance product.9 Information to be provided to the AMF Before offering an insurance product through a distributor: A list of distributors10 A list of the contracts offered by a distributor, including a description of the insurance coverage provided by those contracts11 The hyperlink to access the distributor’s offer through the Internet The contact information of the insurer’s assistance service Annually, for each product offered through a distributor: The number of insurance policies and certificates issued and the amount of premiums written The number of claims and the amount of indemnities paid The number of rescissions and cancellations The remuneration paid to all distributors and third parties to which the insurer has entrusted the performance of the obligations of an insurer with respect to the distribution of a product through a distributor Documents and information to be provided to the client The notice of free choice The notice of specific consent The notice of rescission of an insurance contract The fact sheet The product summary12 As soon as a contract is entered into: A summary of the information collected from the client The policy, the insurance certificate or the temporary insurance Prohibitions With respect to replacement insurance for insured vehicles or insured parts and with respect to the life, health and employment insurance of a debtor or investor, no insurer may13: Enable the distributor to keep its remuneration within a time period not commensurate with the term of the product, which time period may not, however, be less than 180 days Pay to the distributor a bonus or a share in the profits based on contract experience Set different commission rates applicable to a distributor for products with similar insurance coverage Other changes effective June 13, 2020 For Internet offers you must: Make a specimen of the policy for each product offered and any available endorsement available on your digital space Adopt a procedure for the design, use and maintenance of your digital space and ensure its implementation For each insurance product offered by a distributor, the insurer must make available on its website: A specimen of the insurance policy or insurance certificate and any available endorsements The product summary14 For the offer of insurance products by a distributor, the insurer will have to: Adopt and implement procedures that enable the supervision and training of its distributors Provide training to its distributors covering the topics listed in the RADM Penalties Certain breaches of your obligations may have administrative and criminal consequences that may be imposed at the initiative of the AMF. The AMF has broad powers to carry out preventive inspections and inquiries to demonstrate that infractions have been committed. Consistent with the consumer protection objectives of Bill 141, the ARRFS now provides for greater protection for those who report an offence and much stiffer fines for those who obstruct inspections and inquiries. It should also be noted that certain contraventions of the ARDFPS or the RADM can lead to the cancellation or revocation of the firm’s registration. Administrative monetary penalties of up to $2,000,000 may also be imposed by the Financial Markets Administrative Tribunal. It is therefore essential that you be aware of and comply with your new obligations under the Act mainly to improve the regulation of the financial sector, the protection of deposits of money and the operation of financial institutions.   S.Q. 2018, c. 23. CQLR, c. D-9.2, r. 16.1. The term "firm" is used for brevity, but the information in this bulletin also applies to independent partnerships. Most of these amendments can be found in the Insurers Act, CQLR, c. A-32.1 (the “IA”); this act replaces the Act respecting insurance, CQLR, c. I-21. A-32, the Act respecting the distribution of financial products and services, CQLR, c. D-9.2 (the “ARDFPS”), and the Act respecting the regulation of the financial sector, CQLR, c. E-6.1 (the “ARRFS”: the Act respecting the Autorité des marchés financiers, which has been renamed) Chapter II of the RADM mainly provides the framework applicable to insurance firms and insurers offering products online via a transactional website. This requirement is subject to a transitional period of one year ending June 12, 2020. In accordance with section 22 of the Regulation respecting the pursuit of activities as a representative (chapter D-9.2, r. 10.) Chapter III, of the RADM provides the framework applicable to insurers that offer their products through a distributor. ARDFPS, s. 408. The insurer must, without delay, inform the Authority of any change to this list. The insurer must, without delay, inform the Authority of any change to this list. The distribution guide filed with the AMF before June 13, 2019 can be used until June 12, 2020 and until then, delivery of the guide will be equivalent to the delivery of the summary and the fact sheet. In accordance with sections 424 and 426 of the ARDFPS, these insurance products are deemed to be insurance products which relate solely to goods. The distribution guide that can be used until June 12, 2020 must be currently accessible on the Insurer’s website.

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