Canada v. Toney

In Admiralty Jurisdiction, In Rem Actions and Arrest on (Updated )

This was an in rem and in personam action against both the federal and provincial crowns and a vessel owned by the Alberta government. The action concerned a fatal accident that occurred on an Alberta lake. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants were negligent in their performance of search and rescue duties. The Alberta defendants moved to strike the in rem action on the basis that the vessel had been sold prior to the commencement of the action and also moved to strike the in personam action against them on the basis that actions against a provincial crown should be commenced in the provincial courts. The federal defendants also moved to stay the action or to have it struck as an abuse of process. At first instance, the trial Judge allowed the motions only with respect to the action in rem. The trial Judge held that the sale of the vessel prior to the commencement of the action did defeat the action in rem but it did not affect the action in personam. The trial Judge (2011 FC 40) held that the fact one of the defendants was a provincial crown was irrelevant as the action (and the Federal Court’s jurisdiction) was not grounded in s. 17 of the Federal Courts Act (which governs actions against the Federal Crown) but in s.6 and following of the Marine Liability Act. The Alberta defendants appealed.

Decision: Appeal dismissed.

Held: The Federal Court of Appeal Court noted that it was undisputed the plaintiffs’ claims fall within the subject of navigation and shipping and within the express terms of section 22 of the Federal Courts Act. It was not plain and obvious that the Federal Court was without jurisdiction.

Comment: In Toney v. Canada, 2012 FC 1412, the same point was brought to the court on a question of law (as opposed to the above case which was a motion to strike). At first instance the Federal Court held that it had jurisdiction in personam against a province in a maritime matter. However, on appeal, at 2013 FCA 217, the Federal Court of Appeal held that the Federal Court has no jurisdiction over a provincial crown.