Demers v. Marine Atlantic Inc.

In Arbitration/Jurisdiction Clauses in Maritime Law on (Updated )

Précis: The Quebec Small Claims Court refused to give effect to a jurisdiction clause in passenger ferry ticket in favour of the Federal Court.

Facts: The plaintiffs had purchased tickets on a ferry that was scheduled to leave from the Port of Argentia but was changed to Port aux Basques, both located in Newfoundland. The plaintiffs commenced this claim in the Quebec Small Claims Court alleging that they suffered additional expenses as a result of this change. The ticket contained a jurisdiction clause that provided the Federal Court in either Newfoundland or Nova Scotia was to have exclusive jurisdiction. The defendant sought to have the case dismissed on the basis of the jurisdiction clause.

Decision: Action dismissed.

Held: The Federal Court would not have jurisdiction to hear this dispute as the claim is based on the law of contract and there is no federal law to nourish the jurisdiction of the Federal Court. The parties cannot by agreement confer jurisdiction on the Federal Court. However, the courts of Quebec are also without jurisdiction pursuant to Art. 3148 of the Civil Code which provides the courts have no jurisdiction where the parties have agreed to refer the matter to a foreign court. The appropriate court to hear the dispute is the small claims court of either Newfoundland or Nova Scotia.

Comment: This decision is clearly wrongly decided. Although most of the reported cases involving carriage of passengers by sea are decisions of provincial superior courts, the law that is applied is, almost without exception, Canadian maritime law including, where applicable, the Athens Convention. Therefore, pursuant to s. 22(1) of the Federal Courts Act, the Federal Court would have concurrent jurisdiction. (Regrettably, as with many Quebec decisions, this decision is reported only in French and the summary is based upon a translation that may be imperfect.)