The Fact That Provincial Law May Apply to a Dispute Does Not Oust the Jurisdiction of the Federal Court

A few years ago, in Desgagnés Transport Inc v Wärtsilä Canada Inc2019 SCC 58, the Supreme Court of Canada concluded that the Quebec Civil Code can apply to the sale of a marine engine. In other words, the fact that the dispute was maritime in nature, and thus predominantly federally regulated, did not oust the application of Civil Law. This marked a departure from previous Supreme Court cases that held that once a matter was considered marine in nature, no provincial law could apply to it. 

In the recent case of Fraser Point Holdings Ltd. v. Vision Marine Technologies Inc., 2023 FC 738 the defendant shipbuilder sought to have a claim against it struck on the basis that the dispute - repair costs arising from a faulty engine - was governed by portions of the Civil Code. Put another way, because Civil Law applied to the dispute in accordance with the Wartsila decision, the Federal Court had no jurisdiction to hear the case. 

That argument was rejected by the Federal Court which concluded that it retains jurisdiction over maritime matters even when those matters are governed by provincial law. Justice Rochester stated that:

[52] The Plaintiff submits that Wärtsilä did not alter this Court’s jurisdiction but rather broadened the applicable law to include matters that, constitutionally, have a double aspect. During the hearing, the Plaintiff referred to a level of uncertainty and confusion that followed the decision in Wärtsilä, and noted the articles and commentary cited in Duval at paragraph 49. The parties, along with the legal community who advise their clients, require a measure of clarity and, to the extent possible, certainty. 

[53] To the extent that I may provide such clarity, where there is a double aspect scenario and provided that Canadian maritime law is one of the applicable bodies of law, then the Federal Court retains jurisdiction to hear the matter. This remains the case even where provincial legislation ultimately prevails over non-statutory Canadian maritime law. The fact that the Plaintiff may now be entitled to avail itself of certain provisions of the Civil Code along with Canadian maritime law in order to seek recovery from the Defendant, does not curtail or lessen this Court’s “unlimited jurisdiction in relation to maritime and admiralty matters” (ITO at 774).

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