Is it fair to force franchisees to prove that their franchisor has acted in “bad faith”?

February 24, 2015

No. Since 1971, there have been recommendations in Ontario that franchisors should have the burden of proof when challenged about acting unfairly.

Reverse the onus

The first one was by a retired Superior Court Justice and the next one a former partner to the actual Arthur Wishart, a lawyer from Sault Ste. Marie.

1. The Grange Report

MGCS

Legislative approach

(iii.) Contractual v. equitable approach

3. In these dealings also, placing the burden upon the franchisor to prove,

(a) that the contract is fair; and

(b) that the franchisor’s exercise of his rights under the contract is justified in the circumstances.

Report of The Minister’s Committee on Franchising, The Honourable Arthur Wishart, W.C., M.P.P., Minister of Financial and Consumer Affairs by S. G. M. Grange, Q.C., June 1, 1971.

2. Public Hearing testimony

Wishart

I think it’s interesting that in that circumstance the Grange report does a reverse of onus. It says there has to be fair dealing, and if there isn’t fair dealing, then it’s up to the franchisor to show, and I quote, “that the contract between the parties was fair.” In other words, the onus shifts, not from the franchisee to prove they were treated unfairly but to the franchisor to prove that franchisor dealt with this individual fairly. I think that’s an extremely important concept. It goes on to say that the franchisor’s conduct was “equitable in the circumstance.” So you have this onus on the franchisor, at that point, to prove they dealt with this person fairly.

Mr. Gerald Nori, Wishart and Partners, March 7, 2000.

One of the greatest barriers is franchisee access to information.

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Reverse the onus on good faith

October 8, 2010

The problem with the “good faith, fair dealings” issue is that the little guy (franchisees) have to prove that their franchisor played unfair.

  • How about making the franchisor show they acted acted fairly instead?

I think this is a very clever idea and would prevent much bad behavior.

This was a suggestion brought forward by Gerald Nori of Wishart Law Firm LLP in 2000.

I think it’s interesting that in that circumstance the Grange report does a reverse of onus. It says there has to be fair dealing, and if there isn’t fair dealing, then it’s up to the franchisor to show, and I quote, “that the contract between the parties was fair.” In other words, the onus shifts, not from the franchisee to prove they were treated unfairly but to the franchisor to prove that franchisor dealt with this individual fairly. I think that’s an extremely important concept. It goes on to say that the franchisor’s conduct was “equitable in the circumstance.” So you have this onus on the franchisor, at that point, to prove they dealt with this person fairly.

And in response to a question By John O’Toole that this may increase litigation, Mr. Nori was firm in the opposite direction:

I would see it as just the opposite. I would see it as the big guy now having to come into court with all the resources and proving that the treatment was fair under the circumstances. That’s a tremendous onus for the little guy to prove. The other thing is that the documentation is never there. The documentation is always in head office, and you never know whether you’re getting the whole story. So I think that’s an extremely important concept.When I spotted that in the Grange report, I thought, “Boy, there’s something that really would have some meaning in this legislation to equalize the playing field,” because it is tremendously unequal.

Mr. Nori’s reference to the Grange Report under (see under Legislative Approach, (iii.) Contractual v. equitable approach  section) is from 1970:

3. In these dealings also, placing the burden upon the franchisor to prove,
(a) that the contract is fair; and
(b) that the franchisor’s exercise of his rights under the contract is justified in the circumstances.

“Justified” is the absence of opportunism. The test for opportunism is: Would the franchisor have likely made this decision if it were their own assets at risk?


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