Corporate Governance during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Local authorities continue to encourage people to refrain from gathering in large groups and to practice social distancing. In this landscape, corporations should consider alternative means of holding director and annual shareholder meetings in the coming months.

This article addresses the legislation applicable to corporations incorporated under The Business Corporations Act (Saskatchewan) (the “Act”). While corporations incorporated under federal or other provincial statutes are subject to similar rules, the specific incorporating statute should be carefully reviewed in each case. In addition, directors should bear in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and it is recommended that directors consult with legal counsel to determine the best approach for their corporation to ensure the safety of all parties. 

Shareholder/Member meetings

Typically, annual general meetings of the shareholders (“AGM”) often involve a number of shareholders meeting in a physical location within Saskatchewan. Given that meetings over a certain number of attendees is now prohibited in Saskatchewan and leaving one’s home is generally discouraged, holding an AGM in person is no longer feasible in many circumstances. It is also important to remember that unless the required number of shareholders are present at a meeting, there will be no quorum reached and decisions cannot be made.

Given the current environment, what options are available to corporations?

1. Postpone the AGM

Under the Act, the directors of Saskatchewan corporations are required to call an AGM not later than 18 months after the corporation comes into existence and subsequently not later than 15 months after holding the last preceding AGM. Depending on the timing of incorporation and/or the last AGM, it may be possible to postpone the AGM to a later date. While it is uncertain how long the prohibitions on public gatherings may last, postponing the AGM by a few months may be worth considering.

2. Virtual AGM

A virtual AGM would take place over a virtual platform which would allow people to attend via telephone or videoconference. The Act allows shareholders of a corporation to attend a meeting of shareholders by means of telephone or other communication facilities as long as all participants are able to communicate adequately together. Directors contemplating holding a virtual AGM should consider the following:

 

  1. 1a. Corporate articles, by-laws, and unanimous shareholders’ agreements (“USA”): directors will need to review the corporate articles, by-laws, and USAs to determine whether these documents prohibit a virtual meeting. Directors should also consider any procedural matters contemplated within the by-laws or USA, including notice requirements, taking votes, and quorum requirements.

     

  2. 2b. Method of holding meeting: the directors will need to find some kind of technology or service that will allow for adequate communication between all shareholders and other attendees of the AGM. If the parties are not able to communicate to each other, the validity of the meeting could be challenged.

     

  3. 3c. Business of the meeting: if the agenda contains contentious matters, it is often preferable to deal with such matters in-person rather than in a virtual AGM. If a virtual AGM is to be convened, directors should consider the agenda and entertain the possibility of deferring any contentious business to a later date.

     

  4. 4d. Voting: generally, voting at a meeting of shareholders is done by a show of hands. In the event that some attendees are not visible in a virtual AGM (making the counting of hands impossible) directors will have to determine how votes will be tallied in a fair and reliable manner.

     

  5. 5e. Notice: in addition to providing the information required by the Act, by-laws, and/or any USA, a notice to the shareholders should contain detailed instructions on how to attend the virtual meeting.

Director Meetings

Similar to AGMs, meetings of the board of directors of a corporation are traditionally held in-person at a location in Saskatchewan. However, the Act also allows directors to attend a meeting of directors by means of telephone or other communication facilities that allow all attendees to hear each other.

While the considerations discussed above are relevant in determining whether a director meeting should be postponed or held in a virtual forum, the directors must be sure to review the corporate articles, by-laws, and any USAs. These documents may dictate when and where meetings of directors must be held, and other related procedural aspects.

Considerations for Non-Profit Corporations and Condominium Corporations

In May, 2020, the Saskatchewan Government introduced regulations which permitted non-profit corporations (incorporated under The Non-profit Corporations Act, 1995) and condominium corporations (constituted under The Condominium Property Act, 1993) to allow such corporations to hold annual general meetings of the members/owners through telephonic, electronic or other communication facility as long as all participants to the meeting are able to adequately communicate with each other. Likewise, meetings of directors of these corporations are generally permitted to hold virtual meetings as long as all directors consent. Accordingly, the considerations discussed above are relevant to these kinds of corporations. As always, it is important to remember that these rules are subject to the bylaws of the non-profit corporation or the condo corporation.  

For more information, please contact:

 

Jon M. Ponath

306.933.1365

Email: j.ponath@rslaw.com

Witnessing of Legal Documents

If you have ever been involved with a legal matter such as a transaction involving real property, the granting of a power of attorney, or execution of a Will, you may be aware that certain legal documents require the personal attendance of a lawyer to witness its execution. The COVID-19 pandemic presents obvious challenges for lawyers and clients to comply with the legal requirement to have a lawyer physically meet with his/her client to witness the signing of a document.

On March 26, 2020, the Government of Saskatchewan enacted emergency regulations to enable lawyers to execute and witness certain documents by video conferencing (through applications such as Skype, Facetime, or Zoom, for example) to allow lawyers to assist clients while maintaining social distancing so as not to put clients, staff or lawyers at risk. These emergency regulations apply to real estate transaction documents that must be filed with the Land Titles Registry, Powers of Attorney, and affidavits and other sworn documents. While certain strict procedural steps must be followed,  our lawyers are committed and remain available to help you in getting important documents signed and witnessed to ensure they will be legally valid in accordance with the emergency provisions that have been put in force by the government.

These emergency regulations do not apply to the signing of Wills and Health Care Directives. The Government of Saskatchewan enacted additional regulations on April 16, 2020 that address the virtual witnessing of Wills. However, these regulations impose additional procedural steps that must be carefully followed. Please contact us for further information and advice respecting getting properly executed estate planning documents in place. Our office is committed to finding practical solutions to ensuring Wills and other estate planning documents can be witnessed in a safe manner. To this end, Robertson Stromberg has commenced several initiatives relating to workplace hygiene, monitoring lawyers’ and employees’ health, and following all Health Canada, CDC, and SaskHealth recommendations to maintain the safety of its clients who are required to meet with our lawyers.

For more information, please contact:

 

Jon M. Ponath

306.933.1365

Email: j.ponath@rslaw.com

Lawyers Jon M Ponath