|By Janet Michelin|
The decision in BMO Harris Gestion de Placements Inc. v. Rainville, 2015 QCCS 5368 shows that no matter how hard attorneys try to draft injunctive orders that are clear and cover all the bases, there is often still room for interpretation and therefore ambiguity.
In this case, the Defendant Rainville resigned from BMO to work for a competitor. He was not bound by a non-competition agreement. BMO sought a provisional injunction to prevent him from soliciting clients. On January 23, 2013, a provisional injunction was issued for a period of 2 days ordering Mainville to:
a) CESSER tout contact que ce soit à des fins de sollicitation ou à des fins professionnelles ou d’affaires, par voie téléphonique, par lettres, en personne, ou de quelque autre façon que ce soit avec les clients référés par BMO Groupe Financier et/ou BMO Banque Privée Harris (ci-après collectivement désignée « BMO ») (P-15), sauf par des moyens usuels de publicité adressée de façon générale à la population, tel que par voie de journaux, radio ou télévision, exception faite des clients déjà transférés;
c) CESSER ET EMPÊCHER les défendeurs de conseiller les clients de BHGP relativement à la suite de la gestion de leurs comptes et aux instructions qu’ils doivent donner à BHGP, entre autres afin de résilier l’Énoncé de politique de placements et Convention de gestion discrétionnaire qui les lie à BHGP. [Underlining in the Judgment]
The parties were back in court on January 25, 2013, during which time Rainville's lawyer explained to the Court that clients had learned through social networks that he had left BMO and were communicating with him to say they wanted to follow him. The judge and attorneys acknowledged that the clients were free to do so. The attorneys then negotiated and agreed to the following order which was issued by the judge:
a) CESSER tout contact que ce soit à des fins de sollicitation ou à des fins professionnelles ou d’affaires, incluant donner des conseils, par voie téléphonique, par lettres, en personne, ou de quelque autre façon que ce soit avec les clients de BMO Groupe Financier et/ou BMO Banque Privée Harris (ci-après collectivement désignées «BMO» (P-15), sauf par des moyens usuels de publicité adressée de façon générale à la population, tel que par voie de journaux, radio ou télévision, exception faite des clients déjà transférés;
b) ORDONNER aux défendeurs de répondre à tout client de BMO Groupe Financier et/ou BMO Banque Privée Harris (ci-après collectivement désignées « BMO ») (P-15) qui entrerait en contact avec eux pour savoir comment procéder au transfert de son ou ses comptes de communiquer avec un représentant de la demanderesse. [Underlining in the Judgment]
Rainville's lawyer explained to him that he could meet with clients with whom he had already scheduled appointments but could not schedule new appointments. If a client said she wanted to follow Rainville, Rainville had to refer her to BMO so that BMO could try to retain the client.
On January 27 and 28, Rainville met with several clients whose meetings had been scheduled prior to January 25. On January 29, during his examination, Rainville admitted to having met with 4 clients in the previous two days, believing it was fine because the meetings had been scheduled prior to the January 25th order. BMO brought contempt of court proceedings against him.
Madam Justice Turcotte reviewed the criteria for contempt. Firstly, the order must clearly state what can and cannot be done. In this case, it appeared that Mainville and even the judge who issued the provisional order considered that Mainville was permitted to meet with clients as long as he had not solicited them. While Mainville could not solicit the clients and if they contacted him, he was required to refer them back to BMO, nothing in the January 25th order specifically prohibited Mainville from meeting with them. The contempt proceedings alleged that he had violated the order by meeting with them but the order was for him to cease all contact (cesser tout contact).
Madam Justice Turcotte looked at the definitions of "contact" and "rencontrer" to justify her decision that Mainville had not violated the order. To the extent that there was room for interpretation, the order lacked clarity and the doubt had to be resolved in favour of the accused, Mainville.
The second criteria for contempt, knowledge of the order, was clearly met in this case.
As for the third criteria, intent, it was not met. The evidence established that Mainville had been careful to try to respect the order. BMO did not prove that he had intended to violate it.