Insurance Companies Cannot Compel Customers to Undergo Genetic Testing

In a recent Reference re Genetic Non-Discrimination Act, 2020 SCC 17, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a federal law that forbids companies from making people undergo genetic testing before buying insurance or other services.

The Genetic Non-Discrimination Act (the Act) also outlaws the practice of requiring the disclosure of existing genetic test results as a condition for obtaining such services or entering into a contract.

The act is intended to ensure Canadians can take genetic tests to help identify health risks without fear that the results will pose a disadvantage when seeking life or health insurance.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court held that the measures are a valid exercise of Parliament’s power over criminal law set out in the Constitution.

Penalties for violating the provisions of the Act include a fine of up to $1 million and five years in prison.

This case came to the Supreme Court as an appeal from a provincial “reference.” References are questions that governments ask courts for their opinion on. Reference re Genetic Non-Discrimination Act began as a reference to the Quebec Court of Appeal by the Quebec government.

For more information, contact Jennifer D. Pereira, Q.C. at j.pereira@rslaw.com

Commercial Leases and the Impact of COVID-19

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to affect the day-to-day lives of millions of Canadians. As a result, businesses continue to face issues regarding cash flow, which in turn forces those businesses into difficult decisions as to which obligations they will pay, and which obligations will need to be deferred.

One of the consequences of these difficult decisions is that commercial landlords are now faced with tenants who either cannot pay their rent, do not wish to pay rent or have abandoned or are contemplating the abandonment of leased property. While COVID-19 gives rise to new business considerations, as will be seen below, the rights of the commercial landlord remain relatively unchanged.

This article, originally posted to our website in May, 2020, was amended on June 15, 2020 to reflect the emergency order issued by the Government of Saskatchewan in relation to the eviction of commercial tenants. This moratorium was issued pursuant to the provisions of The Emergency Planning Act.

It should be noted that the moratorium issued only applies to landlord who were eligible, but declined to apply, for the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program (“CECRA”). This moratorium was issued in large part to assist new businesses in reopening during COVID-19.

Your Tenant Cannot (or Will Not) Pay Rent

 

As was the case before COVID-19, where a tenant fails to pay rent in a timely fashion the landlord, who has applied under the CECRA, is able to demand the rent and as permitted under the lease, takes steps to distrain or evict the tenant and take possession of the property. The Saskatchewan Legislature has, at this time, not taken any steps to alter the rights and remedies of the commercial landlord.

Before concluding that the tenant is offside their obligations by way of non-payment of rent, consideration should be given to whether the lease has a force majeure clause and if so, what effect that clause may have on the tenant’s position. For more information on this subject, Marinko Jelovic has prepared an article, Force Majeure and the Doctrine of Frustration – COVID-19, which addresses this issue with more specificity. https://www.rslaw.com/2020/03/18/force-majeure-doctrine-of-frustration-covid-19/

Before deciding on a course of action, a landlord may wish to give consideration to their existing relationship with the tenant and the current economic climate. A tenant who has occupied the same property for an extended period of time or is in the midst of a long-term lease, and who has not voluntarily defaulted on payment may still be better than the alternative. When the time arises for the preventative restrictions imposed by the Government of Saskatchewan to be lifted, prospective new tenants may be a rare commodity. If you consider the business foundation for a long-term tenant to be sound you may prefer having your existing tenant when business resumes, rather looking for a new occupant. Short term pain may be balanced by long term gain.

On the other hand, if the tenant is in default and the history of the landlord-tenant relationship is not happy one, this may be an opportunity to end the relationship, with a view to attracting a more desirable tenant.

Much will turn on the landlord’s view of the value of its relationship with the tenant.

To the contrary, where a landlord has failed or otherwise declined to take part on the CECRA program, the landlord is now prevented from re-entering the property, terminating the lease or exercising the right of distraint. The Government of Saskatchewan has, at this time, limited the remedies available to a commercial landlord who has elected not to participate in CECRA.

Your Tenant Abandons Their Lease

 

In Saskatchewan the legislature has declined to, at this time, amend or enact new legislation that would affect a commercial landlord’s rights. As such, the provisions of The Landlord and Tenant Act continue to apply, as do the provisions of the lease itself.

Under The Landlord and Tenant Act, if the tenant abandons their lease leaving rent unpaid a landlord may exercise its right of distress. In doing so, the landlord is permitted to retain and sell personal property left on the premises by the tenant. However, given the current economic climate a landlord may wish to consider whether or not exercising their right of distress makes financial sense.

While The Landlord and Tenant Act permits the landlord to recover the costs of the seizure and sale of abandoned or seized property, the practical reality is that the property may not be worth the cost and effort of sale. Much will turn on the nature of the tenant’s business and the type of property present in the leased space. As businesses continue to attempt to cut down and reduce overhead costs, depending on the nature of the tenant’s business there may be a reduced, or non-existent, resale market for the goods due to COVID-19. Attempting to seize and sell the property may result in substantial costs being incurred, with little net recovery, if any, toward the unpaid rent.

However, if the decision is to move to terminate, or to accept abandonment, the landlord can proceed in the usual way. The landlord’s rights are largely governed by the lease. Most provide that the landlord may bring action to recover unpaid rent, as well as rent for the remainder of the term of the lease, should a tenant abandon its lease (subject of course to the duty to mitigate and find a new tenant as soon as reasonably possible, though depending on the short and mid-term commercial leasing market it may be of little moment). For more information on the subject, please see the following article on enforcing the landlord’s rights: https://www.rslaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/1226000394Enforcement-of-Commercial-Leases-A-Practical-Guide.pdf

It should be noted that nothing in the in the June 5 moratorium impacts the landlords rights in the event the tenant has abandon their lease. Similarly, the landlords right remain unaffected if the lease expired on or before June 4, 2020.

Where the lease expires after June 4, 2020, and the landlord has elected not to sign up for or participated in the CECRA

Conclusion

 

As the consequences of COVID-19 continue to be felt in the business community, and with no timeline as to when the government imposed restrictions will be softened or lifted, landlords will continue to face business decisions on how to deal with tenants who do not pay their rent. Consideration must be given to the risk of evicting a tenant and attempting to recover unpaid rent versus the cost and time spent attracting a new tenant. Landlords will know that when the Government of Saskatchewan lifts social distancing restrictions, it may still be several months before new tenants can be found, as the economy slowly recovers from the economic downturn. As such, maintaining strong business relationships during this pandemic may best serve to provide a practical benefit down the road. Where the relationship is not so strong, different considerations may apply, and ending the landlord-tenant relationship may be the best outcome.

For more information, please contact:

 

M Kim Anderson, Q.C.

306.933.1344

Email: mk.anderson@rslaw.com

 

Travis K. Kusch

306.933.1373

Email: t.kusch@rslaw.com

Insurance Coverage Considerations on Covid-19

As of March 30, 2020 the Saskatchewan government signed an order pursuant to the provincial State of Emergency directing that all orders of the government and Chief Medical Health Officer must be followed and that law enforcement agencies in Saskatchewan have the full authority to enforce those orders. As a result, gatherings of more than 10 people in one room are prohibited; and nightclubs, bars, lounges and similar facilities are closed.  As other businesses respond to COVID-19 their bottom lines are facing significant impact.

In this uncertain climate, businesses are attempting to manage this crisis and limit their continuing financial losses. One potential avenue for relief is insurance. All businesses should be seeking guidance as to whether their existing insurance coverage can respond to COVID-19 related financial losses.

This article outlines some key insurance coverage considerations to determine whether initiating an insurance claim may be a viable relief option for your business.

COMMERCIAL PROPERTY POLICIES

 

Most businesses’ first party property insurance policies include coverage not only for property damage but also for lost profits resulting from that damage.  The coverage for lost income often covers loss resulting from:

  1. Damage to the policyholder’s own property (business interruption);
  2. Damage to the property of a customer or supplier or a supplier’s supplier (contingent business interruption); or
  3. Government action (order of civil authority)

The event that triggers any of these coverages is property damage — without which there will be no coverage for lost profits under a first party property policy.

When purchasing your property policy for your business, it may have been referred to as “All Risk.” All risk doesn’t necessarily mean that you are entitled to coverage for all risks. These policies can sometimes exclude coverage for virus, contagious disease or bacteria. In that case, any COVID-19-related claims will likely be denied.

Business Interruption

With respect to your commercial property policy, the definition of physical damage found within the policy becomes crucial to determining whether coverage applies.

Contingent Business Interruption

Contingent business interruption is a coverage that allows a claim for lost income resulting from a covered loss to an insured’s customer or supplier (Indirect Loss). This type if coverage is typically triggered as a result of a physical damage to the customer or supplier listed as a reliant party, critical to the insured’s operations.

Government action/civil authority

Some property policies will responds to Interruption by Civil Authority, which is often defined as “actual loss as insured hereunder during the period of time, not exceeding two to four weeks, while access to the “premises” is prohibited by order of civil authority”

Given that the definition of this coverage may vary by policy, there is a possibility that if operations of a business are restricted due to an Order prohibiting access, then coverage may apply. The opposite would be true if the policy wording specifies the requirement for Physical Damage. Once again, the applicability of this coverage and length would be case specific.

NEXT STEPS

 

A determination of whether your business is entitled to coverage is wholly depends on your policy wording. Businesses should be evaluating their policies including any extensions and exclusions, with their insurance brokers and legal counsel to better understand terms and conditions. To get started request a complete copy of your insurance policy and review to determine whether coverage might apply to your business.

For more information, please contact:

 

Jennifer D. Pereira, QC

306.933.1320

Email: j.pereira@rslaw.com

Holding Taxpayers at Ransom

James Steele’s article on the latest target of data bank robbers – Canadian municipalities – appears in the August 2019 issue of Canadian Underwriter.  James speaks anecdotally of Canadian municipalities who have been hijacked by cyber criminals and advises municipal councils to carefully select the cyber policy that will best protect their taxpayers.

The article can be read here.

Benchmark Litigation Canada Lists RS as Recommended Firm in Saskatchewan

Benchmark Litigation Canada has published its guide to the leading litigation teams in the country.

The guide’s results are the culmination of a four-month research period during which time extensive interviews are conducted with litigators and their clients.  The researchers examine casework handled by the firms and seek opinions on litigators practicing within their province or practice area. Using this client and peer-review methodology, Benchmark strives to provide the most accurate and comprehensive coverage of the Canadian litigation market.

Robertson Stromberg is pleased to see that the firm is ranked as a Recommended Firm for the province of Saskatchewan. Lawyers singled out as “local litigation stars” include M. Kim Anderson in the area of Insolvency Law and Gary Young in the areas of Class Action, Commercial, Insurance, and Intellectual Property.   This designation reflects individuals who were recommended consistently as reputable and effective litigators by clients and peers.

Benchmark also lists Jennifer Pereira and Sean Sinclair as “future stars”.  This designation is given to “ones to watch”, lawyers who are rapidly building their reputations in the market.

 

 

Area of Expertise Insurance