Nicholson v. Canada

In Limitation Periods in Maritime Law on (Updated )

This was a summary judgment motion by the Crown for an order dismissing the claims of the Plaintiffs as time barred. The Plaintiffs were the dependents and the executor of the deceased who died when his vessel hit a rock and sank. The Plaintiffs alleged that the accident was caused by the breach of statutory duties on the part of the Coast Guard. The accident occurred on April 2, 1992, but the action was not commenced until March 30, 1994. The Defendant argued that the applicable limitation period was one year from the time of death as prescribed by section 649 of the Canada Shipping Act. (Note: This provision has since been amended and the limitation period is now two years.) The Plaintiffs argued that the discoverability principle operated to extend the time bar under the circumstances of the case, that the court had inherent jurisdiction to extend the limitation period, that there was a non-statutory cause of action to which section 649 did not apply, that the tolling provision of the Ontario Limitations Act applied, and that, in any event, the claim of the estate was not covered by section 649. The court dealt with each of these arguments. With respect to the discoverability principle (i.e. that the limitation does not run until the Plaintiff is aware of the material facts giving rise to a cause of action) the court held that this principle applied but that it did not assist the Plaintiffs as they were aware of the material facts at the conclusion of the inquest into the death of the deceased yet they did not commence their action within one year from that date. With respect to the inherent jurisdiction of the court to extend the limitation period, the court held that, in the absence of a clear statutory authority it had no such jurisdiction. (Note: This is contrary to the decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal in Dreifelds v Burton, (March 6, 1998) No. C 2456 &: C24580 (Ont. C.A.) but is consistent with the decision of the British Columbia Supreme Court in Vogel v Sawbridge, (April 3, 1996) No. 24638 Kelowna Registry.) With respect to the alleged common law non-statutory cause of action, the court held that there was no such cause of action. With respect to the argument that the tolling provisions of the Ontario Limitation Act applied, the court held that the incorporation of the tolling provisions would be inconsistent with the statutory scheme set out in Part XIV of the Canada Shipping Act. Finally, with respect to the action by the executor of the estate of the deceased, the court held that this action (which was newly created by the Supreme Court of Canada in Ordon Estate v Grail, [1998] 3 S.C.R. 437) was not time barred as it was not a claim by dependents and was governed by the two year limitation period in the Ontario Trustee Act as incorporated by section 39 of the Federal Court Act. (Note: It is not apparent why the limitation period in the Ontario Trustee Act would apply to the action by the executor as that action is a common law action and is not based on the Trustee Act.)