Ship Source Oil Pollution Fund v. British Columbia (Finance)

In Admiralty Jurisdiction, Pleadings on (Updated )

Précis: The admiralty jurisdiction of the Federal Court was held to include jurisdiction in actions against a provincial crown. (This is probably no longer good law. See the "Comment" in the summary.

This action by the plaintiff was pursuant to the Marine Liability Act to recover costs it paid to clean up oil pollution from a vessel that sank in Brittania Bay, British Columbia. The defendant was the Crown in right of the Province of British Columbia who had allegedly became the “owner” of the vessel when its registered and beneficial owner was dissolved under the Society Act of British Columbia. The BC Crown brought this application to strike the claim on various grounds including that the Federal Court does not have in personam jurisdiction against it or, alternatively, that that Federal Court is without subject matter jurisdiction because the issue of ownership depended on provincial law.

Decision: Application dismissed.

Held: The test on a motion to strike for lack of jurisdiction is whether it is plain and obvious the claim discloses no reasonable cause of action. For the purpose of the application, the allegations of fact in the pleadings are accepted as proved unless patently ridiculous or incapable of proof. The onus is on the party moving to strike the pleading. The BC Crown is asking the Federal Court to engage in a complex exercise of statutory interpretation to justify the “draconian” measure of striking the Statement of Claim. “A motion to strike is not the proper forum to make a final determination on such weighty matters.” Alberta v Toney, 2012 FCA 167, is dispositive of the issue and, in any event, it is not plain and obvious the Federal Court is without jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is based on a three part test: there must be a statutory grant of jurisdiction; there must be an existing body of federal law essential to the disposition of the case that nourishes the statutory grant; and, the law on which the case is based must be “a law of Canada” within the meaning of s.101 of the Constitution Act. Section 22(2)(d) of the Federal Courts Act grants jurisdiction with respect to “damage done by a ship” and the sinking of a ship resulting in pollution is arguably damage within the meaning of s. 22(2)(d). There is case authority that the Federal Court has jurisdiction over a claim against a province as owner of a vessel where the claim is a maritime claim. Section 43(7) of the Federal Courts Act also suggests the Federal Court has in rem jurisdiction against a ship owned by a province. Section 3 of the Marine Liability Act also expressly provides that act is binding on a province. At the very least it is not plain and obvious the Federal Court does not have personal jurisdiction over the BC Crown. The fact that the ownership issue may require the application by the Federal Court of provincial law does not matter. The ancillary application of provincial law does not affect the jurisdiction of the Federal Court.

Comment: It is now clear that the Federal Court does not have jurisdiction over a province as decided in Alberta (Canada) v. Toney, 2013 FCA 217.