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Important Changes for Arbitration in BC

New Act, rules, website, and a new name

Barry Penner, QC – as published in BarTalk Magazine, February 2021


VANCOUVER – 
This is the first full year the new Arbitration Act is in force in British Columbia. In addition, there are new procedural rules, a new website and a new name for the oldest arbitral institution in our province.

With courts busier than ever due to COVID-19 backlogs and delays, interest in resolving disputes without resorting to traditional litigation has never been greater. There is a need to provide business and individuals with options outside of court.

Last fall, a modernized Arbitration Act passed by the BC Legislature came into force (bit.ly/bt0221p24-1). It applies to domestic arbitration (non-international) cases. BC also has an International Commercial Arbitration Act, which applies if one of the parties is based in a jurisdiction outside Canada. It was substantially revised in 2018.

The new Arbitration Act is based on a United Nations arbitration model adopted by many other jurisdictions. Important changes include strengthened confidentiality, broad procedural powers to ensure a just, speedy, and economical resolution of disputes, along with simpler and faster appeals. Alternatively, parties can agree to opt out of appeals altogether.

In addition, the well-known 35-year-old British Columbia International Commercial Arbitration Centre has re-branded and is now known as the Vancouver International Arbitration Centre (“VanIAC”). The board of directors consistently received feedback that the name “Vancouver” is better known internationally than the name of our province. This is due to the 2010 Olympic Games and other events, which have raised the global profile of our biggest city.

Under the new Arbitration Act, VanIAC is now a designated authority to quickly appoint arbitrators when parties cannot agree on a decision-maker. It also has jurisdiction to resolve fee disputes between arbitrators and parties, without needing to involve a court.

VanIAC has developed updated domestic arbitration rules to supplement the new Arbitration Act, supporting the orderly resolution of disputes. These new rules include the option of an expedited process for claims under $250,000. The goal is to offer access to the benefits of arbitration to a wider variety of claims.

The new Arbitration Act, along with the updated procedural rules adopted by VanIAC, makes arbitration an attractive alternative.

A new website has been launched to support the changes, which are intended to keep British Columbia at the vanguard of jurisdictions supporting arbitration.

While court proceedings are generally open to the public, arbitrations are typically kept private. This is helpful for businesses operating in a competitive environment. Compared to court, arbitrations can help achieve a speedier and more economical outcome.

Parties to an arbitration can shape the process, including choosing the procedural rules and selecting a knowledgeable arbitrator, who in essence serve as a private judge. However, it is recommended to include an arbitration clause at the time of entering into a contract, in case the parties can’t agree on how to handle a dispute after one arises.

It’s also worth pointing out that arbitration is different than mediation (which is something VanIAC is also involved in). While mediation involves a neutral third-party who can help resolve a dispute by making suggestions and using persuasion, arbitrators make decisions, which are binding on the parties.

VanIAC maintains a roster of both pre-approved arbitrators and mediators with expertise in many different areas, including construction, energy, and ICBC motor vehicle claims.

In the era of COVID-19, VanIAC has implemented social distancing measures. Hearings can be conducted by teleconference, video, or in writing.

We all hope to avoid disputes, but they occasionally occur.

If you would prefer to avoid going to court, consider including an arbitration clause in your agreements naming VanIAC as the administering body. Sample clauses can be found at vaniac.org.

VanIAC Arbitration From Nose to Tail Webinar – Part 1

VanIAC Arbitration From Nose to Tail Webinar – Part 2