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Enforcement of International Judgments in Alberta

Enforcing US and International Judgments in Alberta

Have a US or other international judgement in hand against an Alberta party and don’t want assets to evaporate? 

We are Alberta lawyers who respond to international enforcement issues rapidly and effectively.

In our experience, three things are most important when you have a judgment ready for enforcement.

  1. A swift response is paramount. In practical terms, someone owes you or your client money and the sooner you can collect the better. Debtors may seek to rapidly protect assets. Foreign judgments must be registered in Alberta within a limited period of time: within 2 years if from a jurisdiction not covered under Alberta’s Reciprocal Enforcement of Judgments Act and within 6 years if determined by the court to be covered under that Act. Case law demonstrates the question of the applicability of this Act, and the limitations period, is complicated. Contact us for advice. 
  2. Having a legal team to locate assets including proper searches and examinations in aid of enforcement.
  3. Having an experienced cross-border team able to efficiently navigate the Alberta courts and with experience in successfully enforcing judgments.

We are able to handle all aspects of cross-border litigation in Western Canada. We place priority on taking prompt and efficient action to maximize recovery. We are adept at locating assets. We are experienced with the enforcement mechanisms available in Western Canada including equitable relief.

We’ve answered some common questions about enforcing US and international judgements in Canada here, as well as discussed the steps and costs involved in enforcing an international judgement in Alberta.

Foreign Action Legal Services

  • Enforcement of American and other international judgments
  • Cross-border litigation services for related actions
  • Seeking Letters Rogatory in relation to interlocutory orders in US and other international actions

Can a United States or Other International Judgment be Enforced in Canada?

A United States or other international judgment can generally be enforced in Canada, so long as the American or other international court property exercised its jurisdiction. 

The process of submitting a judgment issued by an international court to a court in Alberta involves two distinct but related steps:

  1. Recognition of the international judgment by an Alberta court.
  2. Enforcement in Alberta using the mechanisms of the Alberta court.

For the sake of simplicity, the term “enforcement” is often used as shorthand when referring to both these steps.

There are three routes by which international judgments may be recognized in Alberta:

  1. Pursuant to a multilateral treaty;
  2. Under legislation; or
  3. At common law.

Whether a multilateral treaty applies depends on whether one exists between Canada and the country that originally issued the judgment.

Two pieces of legislation in force in Alberta (the Reciprocal Enforcement of Judgment Act and the International Conventions Implementation Act) facilitate the enforcement of judgments from other Canadian common law provinces, Australia, certain American states (Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Arizona), and the United Kingdom. 

In the absence of a multilateral treaty or legislation that applies, an international judgment must be enforced in Alberta in accordance with common law principles. However, the end result is the same: the main difference is simply the procedure by which the judgment will be recognized.

After the judgment is registered in Alberta, enforcement steps can be taken against Canadian assets. This can include seizing Canadian assets.

What are the steps involved in enforcing an international judgment in Alberta?

1. Starting the action

The first step in recognizing and enforcing an international judgment is to bring an action on the judgment in an Alberta court. Depending on the complexity of the claim, an action is initiated by way of a Statement of Claim or Originating Application. 

An application to register the judgment in Alberta pursuant to the Reciprocal Enforcement of Judgment Act must be made within 6 years of the judgment being granted. This period may be as little as 2 years, however, if from a jurisdiction not covered by the Act or if the court determines that the Act is not applicable. If an enforcement action is initiated after the prescribed deadline, the judgment will not be enforceable in Alberta.

In many cases, this application may be brought without notice to the judgment debtor. Once a hearing date is scheduled for the matter, an agent or counsel for the judgment creditor will have to appear in court to speak to the enforcement application.

2. Alberta court makes a ruling

The role of the Alberta court in recognizing the international judgment is facilitative. The Alberta court will not enquire into the substantive or procedural law of the foreign jurisdiction unless there is some evidence of fraud, a violation of natural justice, or a violation of public policy.

Under the common law, an international judgment will be enforceable in Alberta where it is both:

  • final and conclusive, and
  • issued by a court properly exercising jurisdiction.

If these two requirements are met, an Alberta court is likely to recognize an international judgment.

3. Enforcing the judgment

Once an Alberta court recognizes an international judgment, the next step is enforcement. Enforcing the international judgment means taking some positive step, such as seizing the debtor’s assets, to give effect to the judgment. 

Once an international judgment has been recognized, it can be enforced in the same way as an order of the Alberta court, including through use of the enforcement mechanisms under the Alberta Rules of Court and the Civil Enforcement Act. This can include registering a Writ of Enforcement against the debtor’s personal property on the Alberta Personal Property Registry or against the debtor’s land at the Land Titles Office.

What are the costs incurred by the creditor when enforcing an international judgment?

Enforcing the judgment can be expensive but it depends on the complexity of the case. Where enforcement is required against a debtor who challenges the validity of the international judgment, or where the asset mix is complex and includes unknown assets (for example, where assets include shares in companies or lands that must be located and sold), the costs can be significantly higher than for a simple, uncontested case with known assets. 

Where the assets of the debtor are not known, examinations of the debtor are required to identify assets. Once assets are identified, there are costs to file and register the Writ of Enforcement at the Alberta court, the Personal Property Registry, and the Land Titles Office. Costs of hiring an enforcement agency to collect these assets also varies depending on the complexity of the case; however, costs for the enforcement agency can be recovered from the debtor upon the sale of the assets. 

Can a creditor apply to enforce an international judgment directly or only with the participation of a local attorney?

It is possible for a creditor to bring an application to enforce an international judgment on their own. However, having a legal team helps to navigate the Alberta courts effectively and to locate assets efficiently through proper searches and examinations in aid of enforcement, thus saving you time and expense. 

Our legal team at Carbert Waite LLP has experience in successfully enforcing international judgments from various jurisdictions and would be more than happy to assist you.

Contact a member of Carbert Waite’s Commercial Litigation Group to discuss the specific conditions of your international judgment as the process for registering and enforcing your international judgment will vary depending on your specific circumstances.