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A recent Federal Court case highlights the importance of timely claims in a class action claims process. While late claims may be accepted in extenuating circumstances, courts generally do not have jurisdiction to modify a settlement entered into by the parties.

In McLean v. Canada (Attorney General), 2023 FC 1093, a class action instituted on behalf of survivors of Indian day schools, the Federal Court of Canada declined a motion to extend the claim deadline. The settlement in McLean provided that all claims must be filed by July 13, 2022, but individual class members could seek an extension of up to six months. The moving parties, a class member and the Six Nations of the Grand River Elected Council, asked the court to extend the deadline to the end of 2025. They alleged that notice to survivors was lacking and that there was insufficient support for persons who wished to file a claim. They also argued that COVID-19 had exacerbated these issues. The plaintiffs and defendant opposed the motion.

The court held that the court’s supervisory jurisdiction over a class action is limited and cannot be used to amend a settlement agreement. While there is no generally accepted test for the exercise of supervisory jurisdiction over a settlement, courts generally intervene in cases where there are disputes involving the interpretation of the agreement; serious failures to implement the agreement; or it is necessary to fill gaps in the agreement, for example where circumstances arise that were not foreseen by the parties. The court held that none of these exceptions applied in the within case.

First, the proper interpretation of the agreement provided for one extension right of no more than six months. The settlement provided:

It is recognized that in some extraordinary cases, a Claimant may be entitled to relief from strict application of the Claims Deadline; however, in no event may the Claims Deadline be extended by more than six (6) months.

The moving parties’ interpretation—that the above language created an extension of the deadline by up to six months and a general right to relief from strict application of the Claims Deadline, not subject to the six-month limitation—was untenable.

Second, the benefits of the settlement agreement had in substance been delivered. The court acknowledged that the class included survivors of sexual assault and Indigenous persons, and that such persons were likely to face barriers to access to justice. However, the settlement did not promise to eliminate all barriers. Rather, the settlement set out reasonable notice and assistance programs, which had implemented in accordance with the settlement.   

Third, there was no gap in the settlement. The fact that the settlement did not specifically further extensions due to unforeseen circumstances (like COVID-19) was not a gap in the agreement. It meant that the parties did not intend to provide extensions beyond the six-month limit.

Have questions about filing a claim for compensation in a class action? We can help.

Bridget Moran is a lawyer in Siskinds’ Class Actions Department. If you have comments or questions about this article you can write to her at [email protected].

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