Ontario: the discovery provisions apply to contribution and indemnity claims

In Mega International Commercial Bank (Canada) v. Yung, the Court of Appeal held that the discovery provisions of the Limitations Act determine the commencement of the limitation period for contribution and indemnity claims.  This is an excellent, sensible decision that resolves one of the last significant (and somewhat inexplicable) uncertainties about the Ontario limitations scheme.

A refresher: Section 4 provides the basic two-year limitation period that commences on when the plaintiff discovers the claim.  Section 5(1) defines when discovery occurs.  Section 5(2) provides a rebuttable presumption that it occurs on the date of the act or omission that gives rise to the claim.  Section 15 provides that the ultimate 15-year limitation period commences on the date of that act or omission.   Section 18 provides that for the purposes of s. 5(2) and s. 15, the date when a plaintiff serves a statement of claim on a defendant is the date of the act omission that gives rise to the defendant’s contribution and indemnity claim against another alleged wrongdoer.

There were two competing constructions of s. 18.  One line of jurisprudence originating from Miaskowski (Litigation Guardian of) v. Persaud held that s. 18 prescribes an absolute two-year limitation period that commences always on the date of service of the statement of claim.  Another line of jurisprudence originating from Demide v. Attorney General of Canada et al.  held that s. 18 merely identifies the presumptive trigger date for the limitation period for contribution and indemnity claims, subject to the s. 5 discovery provisions.

I’ve long argued that Miakowski was plainly wrong, and its continued application was hard to understand.  I noted with some satisfaction the trend toward preferring the Demide construction.

The Court in Mega International essentially adopted the reasoning in Demide.  It applied the principles of statutory interpretation: the words in s .18 interpreted in their grammatical and ordinary sense do not establish an absolute limitation period.  Rather, s. 18 works “hand in glove” with the provisions of s. 5(2) and s. 15 to identify the presumptive limitation period that applies in contribution and indemnity claims.  It is not an exception to the basic limitation period in s. 4, but part of the integrated scheme established by s. 4 and s. 5.

The Court acknowledged the injustice in constructing s. 18 as imposing an absolute limitation period.  It would allow for the possibility of claims becoming statute-barred before they are discoverable.  The Court also noted the absence of any basis for recalibrating the balance between plaintiff and defendant rights the Act strikes for this particular category of claims only.