In January 2013, a Working Group of the Uniform Law Conference of Canada (“ULCC”) issued a Discussion Paper with respect to proposals for a new Uniform International Commercial Arbitration Act. The Discussion Paper is intended to generate consultations by May 2013 and final approval by the ULCC in August 2013.

 Background to the Discussion Paper

In 1985, The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) adopted the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration.  The Model Law sets forth legislative provisions relating to the conduct, enforcement and recognition of arbitral awards in international commercial arbitrations. The Model law was developed so that it could be implemented by statute in each country adopting the Model Law, to provide a consistent approach among those countries to international commercial arbitrations.

The Uniform Law Conference of Canada was founded in 1918 to harmonize the laws of Canadian provinces and territories and, where, appropriate, federal laws.  The ULCC brings together government and private lawyers, analysts and law reformers to study areas in which provincial and territorial laws might benefit from harmonization. The history, study papers, discussion documents and many of the Uniform Laws which it has drafted, may be seen on the ULCC’s website: www.ulcc.ca.

In 1986, the ULCC issued a Uniform International Commercial Arbitration Act (the “Uniform ICAA” or the “existing” Act). The Uniform ICAA was intended to provide a template for the implementation of the UNCITRAL Model by Canadian provinces, territories and the federal Parliament.  In large measure, the ULCC’s Uniform ICAA was enacted across Canada. The Uniform ICAA may be seen at: http://www.ulcc.ca/en/uniform-acts-en-gb-1/462-international-commercial-arbitration-act.

The Model Law was amended by UNCITRAL in 2006. In response to these amendments to the Model Law, in August 2011 the ULCC established a Working Group to bring forward recommendations for a new Uniform ICAA (or “new Act”).  In August 2012, the ULCC authorized the preparation of a Discussion Paper for consideration by the ULCC at its meeting in August 2013.

Elements of the Discussion Paper

The Discussion Paper recently issued by the Working Group can be divided into two elements.

First, the Working Group has made recommendation on a wide ranging group of issues.

Second, the Working Group has identified further issues upon which it is seeking the view of others.

Recommendations of the Working Group

There are nine main recommendations of the Working Group:

 1.      The form of the existing Act should be used in the new Act.

 The existing Uniform ICAA is a relatively short statute of fifteen sections, to which the Model Law is attached as Schedule B. Also attached, as Schedule A, is the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards adopted by United Nations Conference on International Commercial Arbitration in June 1958. The existing Uniform ICAA does not incorporate domestic arbitration legislation.

 In other words, the ULCC’s recommended statute for international commercial arbitration does not itself set out the effective statutory provisions and does not deal with domestic arbitration, as do the statutes in some jurisdiction (such as Quebec and the U.K.).  Rather the ULCC’s existing Uniform ICAA leaves most of the substantive provisions in the attached Model Law, and few in the enacting statute itself, and deals only with international commercial arbitration.

 The Working Group recommends that this approach be used in the new statute, on the ground that it more readily identifies the Model Law as the operative document and promotes uniformity among Canadian statutes.  The Working Group recommends that, if any legislature believes that departures from the Model Law are required, those changes should be made in the statute, not the attached Model Law, and that the new Act should only deal with international, not domestic arbitration.

2.    The Working Group has tentatively recommended that all the 2006 amendments to the Model Law be incorporated into the ULCC’s new Uniform ICAA.  This approach has not been taken in every country, as some countries have selected only those amendments they thought were appropriate to adopt.  In particular, some countries have not adopted the provisions in the 2006 amendments to the Model Law relating to the interim measures which may be granted by the arbitral tribunal, on the basis that those interim powers should only be exercised by courts.  The view of the Working Group is that the granting of interim powers to the arbitral tribunal allows the tribunal, but does not compel it, to exercise those powers, and that it is better that these powers be available to arbitral tribunals, only to be exercised if appropriate.

3.   The new Act should apply only to written arbitration agreements (as does the existing Uniform ICAA) but that a flexible approach to “writing” should be taken so that agreements arising from electronic communications would be included.  The Working Group did not recommend that oral arbitration agreements be included within the new Act.

 4.    The new Act should not harmonize the limitation periods applicable under Canadian laws for the commencement of arbitration proceedings. Accordingly, the relevant limitation period would be determined by the parties in their agreement, or by the applicable substantive law.

5.    International arbitration awards made elsewhere in Canada should be enforceable under the new Act, to        allay doubts that such awards are not “international” and not enforceable under that Act.

As a corollary, the Working Group recommended that domestic awards in other provinces should only be enforced through domestic arbitration statutes in other provinces or territories. Also, clearly being of the view that foreign domestic awards should not be enforceable through the new Act, the Working Group is seeking comments as to how this result can be best achieved.

 6.      The words “Commercial Arbitration” and “Commercial Relationship” should be defined in the new Act.

 7.      The Working Group considered that it might be helpful to clarify that an international commercial arbitration award may be raised by way of defence, set-off, or counterclaim in existing proceedings.  This would obviate the need to commence separate proceedings seeking recognition and enforcement.

 8.      The new Act should clarify what is meant by “State”, in a similar fashion to that accomplished in Section 6 of Ontario’s International Commercial Arbitration Act.

 9.     The new Act should emphasize the need to promote Canadian uniformity in the application of laws relating to international commercial arbitration.

 Views Sought by the Working Group

 The Working Group is seeking input on a wide variety of other issues, including the following:

 1.      Whether the new Act should clarify that the limitation periods for commencing arbitration proceedings under Canadian laws (if they apply) are the same for international commercial arbitrations as for court actions.

 2.    Whether there should  be a provision for interprovincial enforcement of Canadian judgments recognizing and enforcing international arbitration awards. The recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Yugraneft Corp. v. Rexx Management Corp. raises the issue of whether an award in an international commercial arbitration can be enforced in one province, where the limitation period is longer, and then whether that judgment can be enforced in another province where the original award could not be enforced due to a shorter limitation period.

 3.    Whether the new Act should say anything about the nationality of the chair or single arbitrator. British Columbia’s International Commercial Arbitration Act provides that the Court shall not, without the agreement of the parties appoint a sole or third arbitrator who is of the same nationality as that of any of the parties.

 4.    Whether the new Act should preclude opting in or out of the Act, in whole or in part.

 5.    Whether the new Act should deal with the confidentiality of arbitration proceedings.

 6.    Whether the new Act should deal with retroactivity, that is, whether the new Act should apply to arbitration proceedings commenced before, or only after, the new Act comes into effect.

 7.    Whether the mediation/conciliation provisions in the existing Act (section 6) should be included in the new Act.

 8.    Whether an arbitration should be required to be re-commenced if the chair or one of the other arbitrators ceases to be an arbitrator (as the existing Act requires in section 7), or whether the arbitral tribunal should have the option of continuing the proceeding with the replacement arbitrator familiarizing himself or herself with the evidence already tendered.

 9.    Whether any amendment needs to be made with respect to the law that governs the substance of the dispute if there is no specific choice of law by the parties.  The present Uniform Act enables the arbitral tribunal to select the law that is appropriate having regard to all the circumstances (section 8).

 10.    Whether the court should have power to consolidate arbitration proceedings if the parties do not agree. Presently, the court has power only to consolidate if, at the time of the motion to consolidate, the parties agree to that consolidation (section 9 of the existing Act).

 Conclusion

 Clearly, the issues which the Working Group and the ULCC are considering are of vital importance to international commercial arbitration in Canada. Canada must continue to modernize its arbitration regime, not only to ensure that cost effective justice is achieved in Canada but also to ensure that the world has continued confidence in Canada as a good place to do business.  For these reasons, any comments about the proposed new International Act should be forwarded to the ULCC as soon as possible. Comments can be delivered to the ULCC on the Contact form on its website: http://www.ulcc.ca/en/contact.

Thomas G. Heintzman O.C., Q.C., FCIArb                                                        January 18, 2013

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