What is a class action?
Class Actions allow ordinary people to challenge corporations and Government institutions by allowing them to join together to litigate issues that would be uneconomical for an individual to litigate on their own. A class action lawsuit allows one person, called a representative plaintiff, to start an action on behalf of himself or herself as well as all others who fit into a defined class. This is subject to the right of class members to withdraw or “opt-out” of the defined class and pursue legal remedies on their own. This means that a single person can commence a class proceeding on behalf of everyone who has suffered a similar harm. Class proceedings legislation allows greater access to justice by permitting groups of people who are similarly affected to join together in commencing legal action.
In 1995 the Class Proceedings Act was enacted in British Columbia. In order for a case to be suitable as a class action there must be one or more suitable “common issues” that effect all of the members of the class. The common issues must be capable of being tried and determined for all class members at the same time. After a class action is started there is a “certification hearing” to determine whether there are common issues that make the case suitable to be certified as a class action in British Columbia. If the case is certified as a class action the case proceeds and, unless the case settles first, there will be a trial to determine the certified “common issues” on behalf of all of the class members.
When there is a settlement in a class action the settlement must be approved by the court.
The Class Proceedings Act that was enacted in 1995 with wording that made British Columbia what lawyers refer to as a “national opt-in jurisdiction”. This means that once a class action was certified in BC all affected BC residents were deemed to be part of a certified class unless they opted out, and in the case of class actions of national scope, any other Canadian resident could opt in to the class if they wished but they were not deemed to be members of the class unless they took the step of opting in. Other jurisdictions in Canada have what is referred to as “national opt-out legislation”. This means that once a class is certified in those jurisdictions every Canadian resident in the affected class is deemed to be part of the class unless they opt out. From 2014 to 2018 Richard Parsons, of Collette Parsons Corrin, worked as part of a Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia committee lobbying Government for an amendment to the Class Proceedings Act to make BC a “national opt-out jurisdiction”. After a four year effort the committee successfully lobbied the Provincial Government and in 2018 and the Act was amended by the Provincial Legislature. This was a significant change to the British Columbia Class Proceedings Act. Prior to the change class actions of national scope were almost always commenced in jurisdictions other than British Columbia with “national opt-out” legislation. Now class actions of national scope can more readily be commenced and litigated in British Columbia.