Legal Guide

Your Guide to How a Class Action Lawsuit Works in Canada

Class action lawsuits are major legal cases that can change the dynamics of government departments, companies and industries. Without them, major atrocities, institutional crimes, minorities and environments would have suffered tremendously.

While class action lawsuits are common in the United States, there are just as many in the great north of Canada. Here’s how they work in this great country:

What’s the Importance of a Class Action Lawsuit?

While there are many lawsuits going on around Canada at one time, rarely do they impact class action lawsuits. These specific cases are focused on major departments, companies or industries (the defendants) that have harmed and caused physical or financial damaged to a large group of individuals.

As such, the result is usually widespread institutional changes, with future generations reaping the benefits of the lawsuit. This is best summed up by CTV’s description of class action lawsuits:

It [class action lawsuits] has been an effective tool for systemic change and is still used to assert minority rights, such as the protection of migrants and veterans, for instance.”

How Does a Class Action Lawsuit Work?

Class action lawsuits were first codified - meaning they were written into law - in Quebec in the 1970s. Next was Ontario in 1993 before all the other provinces (except P.E.I, Prince Edwards Island) adopted similar statutes.

Class action lawsuits work in every much the same way in Canada as they do in the United States. An individual or group of affected individuals must go to a lawyer with a complaint about the harm or pain they’ve experienced.

While individuals are the ones who bring “forward” the case, it’s the law firms that determine if there is a problem that should be pursued. There are a few reasons why this is the case:

  1. There has to be enough information or prove that these crimes are widespread
  2. Class actions are expensive, so lawyers need to “believe in the merits of the case”
  3. These cases have to be certified before going to trial
  4. The compensation has to be worth pursuing the case 

An example could be Higgerty Law, who is representing clients in the RCMP lawsuit. There was a clear belief that something was institutional wrong in the RCMP, and these lawyers acted on it.

Clients must have lawyer representation if they wish to pursue the case. In many cases, the lawyers or law firms are paid a “win fee”, which means they receive a percentage of the compensation if the case goes to trial or is settled.

What Does Certification Mean?

Unlike other criminal or civil cases, class actions must be “certified” to proceed as a case.

This process involves the lawyer and his representatives taking the case to a judge, who will assess the merits of the case, such as whether there is sufficient evidence and the parameters of who is a “member of a class” (the group of individuals that are allowed to apply for compensation).

Once certified, the case can go ahead either through a settlement with the defendant or going through the courts. Lawyers from both sides will negotiate a settlement fee.

What Happens After?

After the settlement has been reached, the compensation will be disbursed to the members of the class by a court-appointed administrator. These can be “anyone who fits the definition of the class. [They] can apply to be part of a settlement” (CTV).

However, in most cases, the judge will provide a timeframe in which members can apply for settlement. Individuals must provide substantial evidence that they were affected by the defendant, and the extent of the damages. Therefore, the compensation will vary from member to member.

We hope that this guide helps you understand how class action lawsuits work in Canada. If you suspect that you have potential class action on your hands or have been affected by one, please research your situation and contact the respective law firms. They can help you take the next step, so you get the compensation you deserve for your suffering.


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