Canadian Pacific Railway Company v. The "Sheena M" et al.

In Admiralty Practice, Stays of Proceedings on (Updated )

This is another action arising out of the collision between the barge "Rivtow 101" in tow of the "Sheena M" and a railway bridge. As a result of the collision $5 million in damage was caused to the bridge. Two actions were commenced following the collision; one by the owners of the "Sheena M" for limitation (the "limitation action") and the other by the Plaintiff for the damages occasioned by the collision (the "liability action"). This was an application by the owners of the "Sheena M" to stay the liability action pending the outcome of the limitation action and an application by the Plaintiff to consolidate the two actions. The court refused consolidation on the grounds that the two actions were incompatible for consolidation. The court noted that there were different issues, a conflicting burden of proof, and different standards of conduct at issue in the two actions. The court further noted that the limitation action should border on a summary procedure whereas the liability action would be a complex piece of litigation.

The Plaintiff raised two preliminary objections to the jurisdiction of the court to hear the stay application. First, the Plaintiff argued that the court was functus by reason of res judicata. This argument was based on the fact that the court had earlier made an order under section 581 of the Canada Shipping Act enjoining the Plaintiff and anyone else from commencing or continuing proceedings against the "Sheena M" interests in any court other than the Federal Court. The court held that it was not functus because enjoining an action and staying an action are two different proceedings and the same question is not decided on the two motions. The second preliminary objection raised by the Plaintiff was that section 581 of the Canada Shipping Act prevailed over section 50 of the Federal Court Act and section 581 did not provide for a stay. The court noted that the wording of section 581 had changed over time and that earlier versions specifically referred to a stay of proceedings. However, the court found that the drafters of the present wording of section 581 had enjoinment in mind and not stay. The court concluded that there was no conflict or tension between section 581 of the Canada Shipping Act and section 50 of the Federal Court Act. They dealt with different concepts.

With respect to the merits of the stay application, the court considered whether the test for granting a stay was to be governed by the two part test of Mon-Oil v Canada, (1989) 27 F.T.R. 50 (i.e. that the continuation of the action would cause prejudice or injustice to the applicant and not mere inconvenience and that a stay would not be unjust to the other side) or the three part test of RJR MacDonald Inc. v Canada, [1994] 1 S.C.R. 311 (i.e. that there was a serious issue to be tried, that the applicant will suffer irreparable harm if the stay is not granted, and that the balance of convenience favours the stay). The court held that the two part test was the appropriate one where the court is asked to stay its own proceeding whereas the three part test is appropriate for stays of tribunals or stays pending appeal. Applying the two part test, the court held that it would be prejudicial to the applicants if the stay was not granted since the liability action would be lengthy and complex and would result in the shutting down of the applicant’s operations. The court further held that it would be unjust if the limitation procedure under the 1976 Convention was not allowed to unfold as it should which would result in reduced litigation. The court further held that there was no prejudice to the Plaintiff in ordering the stay as the limitation proceeding might do away with the need for the liability action and the Plaintiff would have full discovery and full ability to do whatever investigations and hire whatever experts they required.