What are class actions?
A Tool for access to justice
Quebec was the first Canadian province to introduce class actions in 1979. This procedure promotes access to justice by allowing an individual plaintiff to file a lawsuit on behalf of a class of persons who are in a similar situation. Class members need not register or take any measures in order to benefit from the effects of the judgment but can exclude themselves from the class if they wish to exercise their own rights.
The Members of a Class Action
The persons included in the description of the group do not need to sign up or take any steps in order to benefit from the effects of the judgment. Any person who qualifies as a member of the group is automatically entitled to benefit from any favourable result, whether by judgement or by settlement.
A member who wishes to assert his rights individually may opt out of the group. He must complete a form and file it with the Court within a certain time.
The Procedural Steps of a Class Action
Prior to the institution of the class action, the plaintiff must seek and obtain authorization from the Quebec Superior Court.
In order to obtain authorization, a class action must:
1- raise identical, similar or related questions of law or fact;
2- the facts alleged must seem to justify the conclusions sought;
3- the proposed class must be large enough that it is not feasible to obtain a mandate from all members;
4- the representative plaintiff must show that he or she is able to adequately represent the interests of the class.
If a case is authorized to proceed as a class action, the Court will authorise the class action and thereafter consider the merits of the case. From this point on, a class action proceeds like any other civil action, although the cases tend to be complex and require extensive evidence.
In the event of a favourable final judgment, the Court will determine the compensation to which members are entitled or the means to determine the compensation, as well as the manner in which class members can make their claim.