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The Blakes Continuity Podcast

COVID-19: Your Resource Centre
COVID-19: Your Resource Centre

Our Continuity podcast examines how COVID-19 is impacting business in Canada and shines a light on the path forward. Lawyers across our offices discuss the unique challenges, risks, legal developments, opportunities and government policies emerging in a time of unprecedented disruption.

If you want to hear about a particular topic, reach out to our Communications team at communications@blakes.com.

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Episode 6: M&A and COVID-19: A Strategic Update
 

In our latest episode of Continuity, Blakes lawyers Rory ffrench and Cassandra Brown tackle market-related questions and concerns ― from shifting M&A projections to strategic opportunities and the government’s approach to competition and foreign investment in the time of COVID-19.

Only have a few minutes? Fast forward to a topic of interest:

Episode 5: Litigation Fever – Part II: Dealing with Delays
 

As businesses focus on the new normal and gradually reopen, courts and litigants are facing their own set of challenges — playing catch-up and running virtual hearings. In episode 5 of Continuity, Blakes litigators Max Shapiro and Alyssa Duke give us an inside look at what this means for you.
 
Only have a few minutes? Fast forward to a topic of interest:
 

Transcript

Mathieu: Hi, I’m Mathieu Rompré.

Peggy: And I’m Peggy Moss. This is episode 5 of the Blakes Continuity video chat.

Mathieu: A what? No. No, no. This is a podcast. You know, the thing we’ve been doing for nearly two months now?

Peggy: But haven’t you heard? Everything is video now. Even courts are doing video hearings. Which makes me wonder, do you think there is some flexibility on robes?

Mathieu: You mean like bath robes?

Peggy: Yeah! Never mind! Maybe now would be a good time to remind listeners that this podcast does not constitute legal advice.

Mathieu: Or fashion advice, in case anyone was wondering.

Peggy: We are joined now by Blakes litigation Partner Max Shapiro. Max, I understand that courts have made it clear that they’re up and running. What does that look like?

Max: Well, there is certainly a shift towards reopening of courts. They’re starting from the position where there has been a fairly lengthy period of initial suspension and service adjustments.

If you had a non-urgent hearing that was scheduled in late March, April and now into May, there’s a good chance that it was postponed. And if you were looking to file something in a court office, there’s a good chance you could no longer do that in person. So, certain courts were able to maintain more “normal operations” ― some of the smaller and more specialized commercial courts come to mind ― but there was a shift from initial suspensions now towards gradual reopenings where we’re seeing a big push for written court matters, teleconferences, videoconferences and an expansion of the types of matters that can be heard remotely.

The bench has been signalling a greater emphasis on keeping things short and simple and encouraging parties to resolve their differences outside of court, if they can. There’s not much patience for disputes that will not determine the case or for parties playing games. But the reality is that the courts are facing a backlog of cases that have been put on pause as a result of the emergency declarations.

It’s also important to note that the courts have not been closed for new matters. So new filings have been trickling in, and parties tend to be using electronic filing to do this. So, the new normal continues to evolve day by day. The courts are adapting week by week, and you’re now going to be seeing a shift towards dealing with this log-jam at the same time as trying to efficiently manage a new batch of cases.

Mathieu: Max, talking about the log-jam. Do you hear concerns from clients about the possibility of getting a timely hearing?

Max: Litigation in the court system can sometimes take many years, and now litigants are facing the prospect of delays of additional months to have their matters handled, and there is concern about that one.

But there is, on the other hand, I think, a good sense of flexibility among most litigants that this type of situation is no one’s fault and it’s out of people’s control. What the thrust of the questions we are getting now from clients relates to is how can we deal with our dispute most efficiently having regard to the constraints. And although the courts are anticipating, you know, a gradual reopening and a rescheduling of matters that were postponed, I would say starting in June, the process for managing that backlog is still unclear in a lot of places. And courts are moving towards the direction of avoiding, what I’ll call, a first-come, first-serve rescheduling system that is dealing with cases where their lawyers get there first asking to reschedule them and instead trying to develop a system that’s somewhat more actively managed by the type of case and the type of hearing.

We are planning for a very busy fall in 2020 as litigants are gearing up for courts to reopen. But you are seeing parties, Mathieu, respond in three ways to the current log-jam, as you put it. The first main way that we’re seeing is reconsidering ways to resolve their cases without having to use the courts. So, we have definitely seen an uptick in settlement discussions among lawyers of parties, as well as an uptick in virtual out-of-court mediations. The second coping strategy we’ve seen is waiting things out and moving things forward as best as one can given the current constraints. And a third group is exploring arbitration out of court where the parties agree to have a third-party arbitrator settle their dispute.

Mathieu: Thank you, Max. That’s the perfect segue to bring Alyssa Duke into the conversation. Alyssa, you have a dispute resolution practice, and you are based in Alberta. Do you have a sense of how clients in your province are responding to the log-jam that Max just described?

Alyssa: Clients and counsel now have to evaluate each dispute under a new light given the challenging economic realities we’re facing both with COVID and in Alberta with the record-low price of oil. So, clients are looking for options to resolve disputes in a more timely manner. In fact, in Alberta, the court is even encouraging litigants to act as alternative dispute resolution forums.

There’s three options, I think, that everyone should look at, the first being reconsidering settlement options in light of these new economic realities. The second is mediation. I attended a mediation last week by video conference at a very early juncture in the file. The matter was successfully resolved in advance of questioning for discovery. So, in that instance, mediation was the most effective means. And the third option that should be looked at is arbitration.

Peggy: Alyssa, what kinds of issues are good candidates for arbitration?

Alyssa: Parties often agree to arbitration in contracts. Parties can also move cases that are already in the court system to an arbitration process for final resolution. Further to that, parties can also agree to move some interlocutory motions or isolated issues that you may see in the litigation should the arbitration ― so that they can get that resolved on a more timely basis than may be possible in the courts.

Peggy: Alyssa, what are some of the potential advantages of proceeding by arbitration?

Alyssa: Arbitration is a really flexible process. You can tailor the arbitration to your dispute. Arbitrations are largely driven by the parties. Especially if you have competent counsel that can put forward a joint recommendation to the arbitrator with respect to timelines, limited discovery protocols, exchange of records, deadlines for expert reports. The process itself can be heavily guided by the parties. The parties also can select the arbitrator or arbitrators that have the requisite experience in the area of the dispute. Finally, counsel can agree to participate via videoconference with arbitrator approval.

Peggy: So, video’s interesting. What are the merits and some of the disadvantages, if there are some, of proceeding via video?

Alyssa: I think a clear merit is timeliness. With social distancing and office closures, witnesses are able to participate via video from their home. Video’s well suited for disputes where there’s a focus on a question of law with a more limited number of documents and fewer witnesses. You can also submit your evidence in writing in the form of witness statements, and so there’s less need to have somebody sitting on the stand for hours on end in person. Their witness statement can go in and then they’re cross-examined on that witness statement, and that can be done via videoconference.

In terms of disadvantages, if you have numerous witnesses and you have over half a million records, a videoconference may be a disadvantage, especially if the dispute is document intensive. It’s hard to get everybody on the same page, literally, when you have thousands and thousands of records to sift through. If there’s an issue of credibility between witnesses, I also think it’s generally preferable to have that witness in person. For cross-examination, it’s all about pace and control, and it would be harder to maintain that pace and control if you don’t have a live witness in front of you.

Peggy: Yeah, that makes sense. What are some of the other things that clients should think about as they consider arbitration as an option?

Alyssa: Typically, arbitrations are private and confidential. If there are reputational issues or other business considerations that would lead a client to want a dispute to be completely private and not on the public record, arbitration is a great forum to resolve the dispute. It also allows the parties to really set the agenda in terms of the issues. Finally, it’s just an inherently flexible process, and so in this new normal where we want to be as nimble as possible, arbitrations allow you to do that.

Peggy: Great. Alyssa, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us, and good luck. I know you’ve been really busy. Alyssa Duke and Max Shapiro are partners at Blakes. They were speaking with us from their homes in Calgary and Toronto. This concludes episode 5 of the Blakes Continuity podcast.

Mathieu: Thank you for tuning in. If you missed part 1 of our Litigation Fever series, listen to episode 4 on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

Peggy: Until next time, be safe and stay well.

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Episode 4: Litigation Fever – Part I: What Lies Ahead?

The coronavirus pandemic is pushing the litigation envelope to new and often unexpected heights. From force majeure and landlord-tenant agreements to mounting class-action lawsuits, our lawyers Matthew Liben and Robin Reinertson provide some insight into these issues as they relate to the current crisis.

Only have a few minutes? Fast forward to a topic of interest:

Transcript

Mathieu: Hi, I’m Mathieu Rompré.

Peggy: And I’m Peggy Moss, and welcome to the Blakes... Hey, Mathieu? You okay? You don’t sound right.
 
Mathieu: I don’t know, Peggy. I’ve been doing way too much binge-watching, and I’m having awkward dreams, all related to work, and I’m left with tiring legal questions.
 
Peggy: Like what?
 
Mathieu: Well, let’s say I have a zoo in Quebec…
 
Peggy: Oh boy, here we go.
 
Mathieu: You know, with big exotic animals, but no one comes because of COVID. Can I invoke force majeure, maybe defamation? I mean, Joe Exotic must have a case, right?
 
Peggy: Tiger King? Seriously? I think it’s time to launch episode 4 of the Blakes Continuity Podcast, in which we talk about litigation.
 
Mathieu: We reach Matthew Liben in Montréal, where he practises commercial litigation. Matt, bonjour, hello! Let’s talk about force majeure first. Are businesses successfully invoking that in response to the impact of COVID-19?
 
Matthew: Yes, they certainly are. I mean, I guess it depends, you know, on the definition of successful because probably the outcome is not certain yet. We’ll likely see litigation flowing from it, but we’re seeing a lot of instances where it is being invoked. That said, most force majeure clauses are not actually crafted to provide relief from a crisis like this one. Notably, most of the clauses that we’ve looked at exclude monetary obligations and are, therefore, not really of any assistance to parties that are looking for help to suspend contractual payments.

So, what we’ve had to do with respect to debtors that are seeking help to weather the storm is to look into the agreement as a whole and consider whether there are other clauses that might be of assistance or looking at legal doctrines that might help them.

And, in other cases, the adverse party may have actually already invoked a force majeure clause, in which case the task for us is really to take a look and see whether the clause has been properly applied and whether there’s anything in the clause that could provide help to our client with respect to the performance of its own obligations. And, notably, we take a look at whether the force majeure clause actually really suspends performance or whether it actually only postpones the parties’ respective obligations.
 
Mathieu: Right. What’s distinctive about Quebec’s force majeure regime?
 
Matthew: Well, here in Quebec, unlike anywhere else in Canada, even in the absence of a force majeure clause in the contract, the parties are in a position to avail themselves of a force majeure defence by virtue of the provisions of the Civil Code. And, indeed, the Civil Code provision actually is only enforceable or applicable when the contract is silent. So, the parties can contract out of the Quebec force majeure regime, but if the contract is silent, the force majeure regime under the Civil Code is available to them.

And what’s interesting about the Quebec Civil Code regime is that it does not exclude monetary obligations. So, in many cases, it’s actually more favourable for a debtor than the typical contractual clause.
 
Peggy: Matt, you’re in the unusual position of representing both landlords and tenants in the commercial real estate arena, and I’m wondering what kinds of issues you’re seeing on both sides in light of the pandemic.
 
Matthew: Well, that’s true, and I would say that this crisis is really going to have a significant and lasting impact on both landlords and tenants, and both sides have come to us and sought out our help to try to resolve issues under their commercial leases.

I’m pleased to report that in essentially all of the cases where we’ve been approached, both parties had, indeed, already tried to resolve the matters voluntarily and had not been able to do so. So, at that point, when there’s a log-jam, we get involved, we take a look at the lease, and we give advice as to how the party can best position itself, either in anticipation of a litigation or to try to perhaps break the log jam and get negotiations going again.

In terms of what we’re looking at? Well, certainly we’re looking at the force majeure clauses, but we’re also thinking about whether the defence of non-performance can be invoked. We’re looking at whether the landlord is in default of its obligation to provide quiet enjoyment of premises, and if so, what are the consequences of that. We’re looking at whether the landlord is in default of its obligation to guarantee that the premises may be used for the intended purpose. We’re looking at whether the contract limits or removes these obligations entirely.

So, there’s a variety of different issues that we look at, obviously, depending on whether we are acting for a landlord or a tenant.
 
Peggy: The federal government recently weighed in on this. What are the key takeaways of that pretty striking announcement?
 
Matthew: Well, I think probably the key takeaways are, firstly, that it gave great hope, particularly at first when the precise details of the program had not yet been set out. It gave great hope to tenants who viewed it as an opportunity to obtain up to 75 per cent reduction in their commercial rent payments for the months of April, May and June.

When the details actually emerged, I think the key thing is to consider (1) whether the landlord is prepared to actually opt in, because it does turn out to be a purely optional program, and [(2)] if so, how eligibility for the program is to be determined, because not everyone is eligible.

The program is really oriented to small and medium-sized businesses, and the criteria for determining that seemingly is based on a lease-by-lease basis and the amount of rent that’s payable under the lease with respect to a given lease.
 
Mathieu: Matthew Liben, thank you very much. Robin Reinertson, this is a good time to bring you into the conversation. You are a Partner in the Litigation & Dispute Resolution group based in Vancouver. In your practice, you deal mostly with class-action defence. We know plaintiffs’ lawyers can become quite creative when it comes to filing a class-action case. Has the current pandemic given them new reasons to be proactive whether it’s in B.C. or elsewhere in Canada?
 
Robin: Yeah. The short answer is yes. We’ve seen a significant number of class actions cases filed that are related to the COVID-19 pandemic in recent weeks, particularly in the U.S. which tends to lead in terms of class-action activity, and then we’ll see copycat claims filed in Canada. There has been just an astronomical number of cases filed. But we’ve also seen a significant number of new cases across Canada.
 
Mathieu: What kind of class-action cases have you seen filed or do you expect to see in relation to COVID?
 
Robin: Well, the claims are being filed against a wide range of businesses in a number of different industries. It’s not just travel or health care, although those certainly are hotbeds of activity.

We’re seeing a lot of consumer claims. So, people who had travel reservations, there have been claims commenced for issuing credits instead of giving refunds to people who had to cancel their travel. Tickets for concerts and events, ski passes, amusement parks as well as gym memberships ― anything where you had to pay a monthly fee and you’re not getting that service, but you’re still paying the monthly fee ― that’s ripe for a class action.

As I said, there’s health-care claims, so there have been claims filed in Quebec and in British Columbia and, most recently, in Ontario as well, related to outbreaks of COVID-19 at long-term-care homes. We’ve seen claims regarding outbreaks at federal prisons. I think anywhere there is a significant clump or cluster of cases, we will see class-action cases filed.

And then, you know, we’re seeing insurance claims. Some of these cases have been filed already, some of these cases have been filed in the U.S., and we expect to see them in Canada.

We expect to see employment-based class actions in relation to layoffs or for hazard pay or for dangerous working conditions. We may see an increase in privacy cases or cybersecurity class actions. There’s already been an action filed in California regarding Zoom. In the U.S., they’ve also filed a claim against universities for cancelled classes.

So, because the stakes are so high in this pandemic, we expect to see almost an unlimited scope for creativity and potential claims.
 
Peggy: Robin, there have been suggestions that the legal and political context in B.C., in particular, is creating a kind of perfect storm for lawyers who prosecute class actions, when people say that, what do they mean?
 
Robin: Well, the coronavirus pandemic has coincided with unrelated factors that have made B.C. a real hotspot for class actions within Canada right now. There’s two primary reasons for that. The first is the structure of B.C.’s Class Proceedings Act and recent amendments to that legislation, and the second, oddly enough, is the changes to ICBC, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, which is the mandatory motor vehicle insurer in the province.

So, first, with respect to B.C.’s Class Proceedings Act, B.C. recently became a jurisdiction that allows national class actions. We’re also a no-cost jurisdiction, unlike Ontario or most other provinces. So, the cost and the risk to plaintiffs’ counsel of bringing a class action in B.C. is lower than in Ontario or other places. Simultaneously, we’re seeing Ontario considering amendments to its Class Proceedings Act that would actually make it less attractive to file there. And then in relation to ICBC, we’ve always had entrepreneurial creative class-action counsel in B.C., but we’re seeing new people come on to the scene.

There have been dramatic changes to the tort scheme in B.C. as it relates to motor vehicle claims and our attorney general has recently announced an intention to move fully to a no-fault scheme. And essentially, what that will mean is a number of plaintiffs’ lawyers who have made motor vehicle litigation their primary business will need to look for new cases and new types of claims.

And so, we expect to see many more people bringing cases in B.C. in the near future.
 
Peggy: I can imagine it would be desirable to make yourself class-action proof in that environment and that that would be hard to do, but are there things that businesses and clients can do to mitigate risks of class actions in the current situation?
 
Robin: Unfortunately, you’re quite right. It’s not possible to become class-action proof. There’s always the risk that somebody will file a claim against you even if there’s no merit to that claim. People often talk about filing a criminal case against a ham sandwich, and sometimes I feel like you could certify a ham sandwich in British Columbia. So, there’s always a potential risk, but you can do things to minimize your risk, and businesses really need to think carefully in this pandemic and, ideally, obtain legal advice before they communicate with their customers, their employees, their investors and others.

There may be a temptation, I think, after this initial phase has passed to let the guard down, but we’re entering a new stage of longer-term measures, and we will start reducing some of the restrictions that have been in place or attempting phased return to work, and I think it will be very important for businesses to really pause and seek legal advice about the best way to go about engaging in those activities and communicating those activities.

The other thing I would urge our clients is that, if they are faced with a class action, it’s really important to get creative experienced counsel who can identify and exploit potential early exit strategies. These cases are just monsters of complexity, and the costs of defending them over many years can be significant. So, we really try to look for ways to end the case as soon as possible.
 
Mathieu: Thank you, Robin and Matt. I know you and others on the litigation team are quite busy right now. Thank you for taking the time to bring us up to speed on the latest developments.
 
Peggy: Listeners, if you’d like more information, please check out the Blakes COVID-19 Resource Centre on our website. Until next time, stay home and stay well.

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Episode 3: COVID-19: The Regulatory Impact on Pensions

Pension regulators across Canada are adjusting their policies in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Blakes pension lawyers Lindsay McLeod, Adam Ngan and Sean Maxwell demystify the implications of the steps that federal and provincial pension regulators have taken for businesses and pension administrators.

Only have a few minutes? Fast forward to a topic of interest:

Transcript

Mathieu: Hi, I’m Mathieu Rompré.

Peggy: And I’m Peggy Moss. This is episode 3 of the Blakes Continuity podcast.

Mathieu: In uncertain times, businesses and employers managing pension plans must think about the future and the durability of the retirement benefits they offer employees.

Peggy: Today, on the Continuity podcast, we’ll learn about the pension regulations both the federal government and the provinces are implementing in response to the pandemic.

Mathieu: We will be covering some pretty technical terrain today, but we’ll keep our promise. Our pension lawyers, Lindsay McLeod, Adam Ngan and Sean Maxwell, will keep the focus on what businesses need to know right now.

(Music)

Mathieu: Lindsay McLeod is a Partner in our Toronto office. She will give us an overview of federal regulations.

Lindsay, on March 27, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, or OSFI, published a letter seeking to address issues arising from the current pandemic. Since then, they have updated the directives of the Superintendent under the Pension Benefits Standards Act. If you are responsible for pension benefits at your organization, what is the most important change that you should be aware of?

Lindsay McLeod: The most important thing from OSFI’s March 27th announcement is that there is a full freeze on portability transfers and annuity purchases from defined benefit pension plans. This measure is far-reaching and applies to almost all transfers out of the pension plan other than regular pension payments and certain limited exceptions. Importantly, this is intended to be a temporary measure, and administrators of plans where the signing position has not been severely impaired may request consent of the Superintendent to make these transfers.

Peggy: Thanks, Lindsay. Can you give us a sense of how the government’s actions might impact plan administrators?

Lindsay: The plan administrators will need to ensure that the proper processes are in place to give effect to this portability freeze that has been announced. It’s recommended that there is a communication strategy in place to inform members and beneficiaries of this freeze. This ties in to the statements that need to be provided to individuals on termination or retirement, because OSFI has not announced an extension to the timelines that apply. So, plan administrators will need to consider how to update the packages that they sent out in the normal course, in order to provide sufficient information to members.

What OSFI has done, though, is provided a three-month extension for many of the annual filings and other actions that plan administrators need to take, including the provision of annual statements to members, former members and their spouses.

Mathieu: Lindsay, aside from the action taken by the federal regulator, has the federal government taken any action to assist employers with its funding obligations as a result of the challenges created by COVID-19?

Lindsay: So, to the relief of many employers with federally regulated defined benefit pension plans, Finance Minister Morneau announced on April 15th that, for the remainder of 2020, the requirement to make solvency payments to defined benefit pension plans will be suspended, and OSFI has advised that this will be voluntary relief.

Minister Morneau also announced that the government will consult with stakeholders throughout the year to determine what, if any, relief is needed for 2021. Given that many businesses are currently in cash-preservation mode due to the pandemic, eliminating the requirements to make solvency deficit payments will be welcomed news to many employers.

Peggy: These feel like extraordinary times. Are you aware of any other time that the government has taken action like this?

Lindsay: In response to previous economic challenges, such as the 2008 financial crisis, the federal government did take action and provided temporary funding relief for solvency payments. However, this is the first time that we are aware of the government and OSFI taking steps to fully suspend specific types of contributions without member consent. This appears to be a novel response to the challenges posed by COVID-19.

Peggy: Thank you, Lindsay. We’re now joined by Adam Ngan, also part of the Pensions & Benefits group at Blakes. Adam, we just heard from Lindsay about specific federal regulations that impact pension plans. What steps have pension regulators in Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces taken in response to COVID-19?

Adam Ngan: Thanks, Peggy. So, I think the regulators in these provinces have, first of all, they’ve generally kind of appreciated, similarly to OSFI, that administrators are facing lots of challenges in response to COVID-19. I’d say the most common measure taken kind of across the board, so far, is really just an extension of deadlines, and although there are some kind of differences among the different regulators, for example, some of the regulators you actually have to go and request an extension, whereas other regulators have an automatic extension.

Similarly, different regulators have kind of different positions on the specific filings and different kinds of disclosure and have taken slightly different approaches for that.

Peggy: What are some of the specific measures you think we should be paying close attention to?

Adam: So, I guess just to start off with, none of the regulators have gone as far, and again, in Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces, none of these regulators have gone as far as OSFI, as discussed by Lindsay, to implement a full portability freeze.

However, some of the regulators have posted very helpful reminders that the rules that haven’t necessarily changed as a result of COVID. That is, these rules have always been there, but rather that as a result of COVID, these rules may become more relevant. So, for example, the Ontario regulator ― pension regulator ― has posted a very helpful reminder that when you transfer money out of a plan ― a defined benefit plan ― in certain situations, it’s really subject to the funding status of the plan.

Now, as a result of COVID-19, as you can imagine, many plans funding statuses as a result of market volatility and interest rate changes may have changed, and so funding ― and so as a result of these changes and funding status, which plan administrators either know or ought to know, may affect how monies may beat the plan.

And similarly, the Quebec pension regulator has also provided some updates regarding transfers out of the plan ― out of the defined benefit plan ― as a result of funding changes.

Peggy: In thinking about all of these measures, are there particular things that administrators should be focused on?

Adam: Yeah, I think that administrators should really kind of be thinking about whether or not they’re going to need to utilize these measures, and I really think it’s just kind of a practical kind of going through and talking to your service providers or looking to see your own internal processes to see if you’re going to need a deadline extension for things like an annual return or providing member statements. In that case, I think it’s really better to err on the side of caution. It’s better to ask for an extension and not really need it rather than kind of find yourself in a situation where you do need an extension and haven’t asked for it.

As well, as kind of mentioned earlier, because transferring money out of a plan ― a defined benefit plan ― may depend on the funding status of the plan and whether or not that has changed, administrators should be aware and think carefully about how the funding status of the plan may have changed as a result of COVID-19.

I think, as well, regulators do appreciate, again, that administrators are facing lots of challenges and, along those lines, have been providing lots of updates, and certainly, we’ve been trying to keep track of those things and have been putting those in our various bulletins as well.

Peggy: Adam, thank you very much. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us.

Adam: Thanks very much.

Mathieu: And we’re now heading out west in Calgary, where Sean Maxwell is joining us. Sean, what can you tell us about how Western Provinces differ from Ontario, Quebec or the Atlantic Provinces? Any special measures impacting pension plans?

Sean Maxwell: Well, to answer that question, I think the key point of the contrast comes to a large degree from the fact that Alberta and British Columbia have moved, in the last half decade or so, away from a prescriptive rules-based approach where one would look to the regulator for rules in this scenario, and you instead have to adopt the provisions which are intended to be flexible, both in their use by the administrators and by the regulators.

So, for instance, Alberta and B.C. both have in their statutes provisions which basically prohibit transfers, certain types of transfers, without the prior consent of the superintendent where the administrator is of the view that the transfer would impair the solvency of the plan. And so, we are not seeing any further commentary from the B.C. regulator on this. The Alberta regulator, in early April, issued an update and drew the administrators’ attention to this particular provision.

We have seen in Saskatchewan and should acknowledge the replication, in large measure, of the OSFI freeze that Lindsay talked about, on most forms of asset transfers. It was an amendment to the regulation that gave the superintendent that discretion, and it was immediately exercised as an indefinite but temporary freeze on most forms of asset transfers, but Saskatchewan is, sort of, outside of that Alberta-British Columbia harmonization movement which led to this principle-based regime.

Mathieu: Adam referenced the extension of various filing deadlines in Eastern Canada. Anything similar to report out west?

Sean: Well, certainly we’ve seen similar responses insofar as the extension of this sort of deadline is concerned, although in good Canadian fashion, there are lots of varieties of extensions that have been proposed by the regulators. And so, as I think Adam observed, it’ll be important for administrators to take stock of either various obligations as it relates to a filing of the various returns and reports as well as member disclosure documents, and you’d take stock precisely of the new deadlines.

Mathieu: And Sean, when things eventually get back to normal, how likely is it that these measures are scaled down or brought back to how things were before COVID-19?

Sean: Sure. So, I think there, you know, are really two things which are at tension with one another in this particular environment that we find ourselves. The first is the collapse of oil prices and the effect that has on the many plan sponsors, largely in Alberta but also in Saskatchewan. That will have some real challenges associated with it, and we would expect to see significant reaction to that challenge by governments of both jurisdictions.

So, typically, when we have an economy life crisis or industry life crisis, we see temporary solvency-funding relief as a tool that regulators roll out. Now, British Columbia, in 2019, moved away from solvency funding and moved towards a going-concern approach similar, not identical, but similar to what other jurisdictions ― Ontario and Quebec ― have done. But I think that we’ll see an expedited process of adopting a funding reform, certainly in Alberta, likely in Saskatchewan, as well. I think the anticipation was always that we would eventually see that migrate into Alberta and eventually Saskatchewan, but I think, obviously, the crisis that we are in is going to expedite that.

Mathieu: Thank you, Sean, and thank you, Adam and Linsday. That’s it for this episode of the Continuity Podcast.

Peggy: Make sure to visit the COVID-19 Resource Centre on Blakes.com for more information about pensions and benefits. We have a steady stream of fresh insights and articles on the subject.

Mathieu: This podcast was done entirely on social-distancing mode using technology. Wherever you are, please take care and follow guidelines from health authorities.

Peggy: Until next time, be well and stay safe.

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Episode 2: Cybersecurity Tactics for Turbulent Times

As COVID-19 forces businesses to shift to remote work, leaders must safeguard their organizations from heightened cyber risks. Blakes lawyers Imran Ahmad, Sunny Handa and Nicole Henderson discuss the challenges and share strategies to navigate cybersecurity in the time of COVID-19.

Transcript

Mathieu: Hi, I’m Mathieu Rompré.

Peggy: And I’m Peggy Moss. This is episode 2 of the Blakes Continuity podcast.

Mathieu: Today on the Continuity podcast, we will hear about some of the big questions clients are raising with respect to cybersecurity in the time of COVID-19, and frankly, at any other time, too.

Peggy: Questions such as: "How likely is a ransomware attack?"

Mathieu: Do businesses need to update their cyber plan in light of the current health crisis?

Peggy: And what do you do if you’re offered 4,000 bitcoins from a distant relative who died without an heir? Seriously, though, I didn’t even know I had an Uncle Morton, and if I just click on this link, I can accept a transfer…

Mathieu: Wait… Peggy, Peggy, no. No, do not click on anything, please.

Peggy: Ah, right. Oh, maybe we should bring in the pros.

Mathieu: Let’s begin with cybersecurity preparedness. Imran Ahmad is a Partner at Blakes in Toronto. We also have with us Sunny Handa, who leads the tech group at Blakes. He joins us from Montréal.

Imran, hi, thank you for joining us. Has the pandemic increased cyber risks for your clients?

Imran Ahmad: Yes, in fact we are seeing an increase in cyber threats and cyber-attacks related to COVID-19 work arrangements. There are a couple of ways that hackers are targeting organizations, primarily by targeting their IT environment. The two areas where we have seen significant uptick in terms of cyber risk has been primarily on the ransomware side of things, as well as wire fraud. And I’ll get into that very, very quickly.

On the ransomware side, as I mentioned, what the hackers are trying to do is get access to the network and lock it up by taking advantage of one of those three big pillars of the IT world or infrastructure that the company has. What they’re trying to do is, under the guise of COVID emails or information related to "updates," have staff members basically click or download a file which will be malicious in its content and the way it operates on the system. And as a result, what ends up happening is the system either directly or indirectly will get encrypted.

The second risk that I was describing was wire fraud. Because of the fact that a lot of folks are now working remotely and don’t necessarily have the ability to pick up the phone and talk to their colleague next door or in the office, you will see hackers get into mailboxes or be able to craft emails under the guise of a COVID type of scenario, be able to provide new instructions on banking transfers or payments and if diligence isn’t deployed in those kind of scenarios, we may have a situation where funds are transferred to a fraudulent account at the end of the day.

So, we’re seeing an increase in these two areas: ransomware and wire fraud.

Mathieu: And in terms of what you’re hearing from your clients, are there issues that you would’ve expected to hear but haven’t so far?

Imran: So, I think, by and large, clients are asking the right questions in terms of IT security and broader cybersecurity practices. I typically provide them with what I call sort of my top five list of things to think about ― you know, it’s a good starting list ― they can add to it, it can be customized, and just very quickly, I’ll go through those key five elements"

  1.  If folks are working remotely and using network access you want to make sure you’ve got two-factor or multi-factor authentication rolled out across the environment.
  2. You want to make sure that you send out frequent cyber-hygiene reminders to staff members.
  3. You want to make sure that they have good protocols in place in case of any financial changes or transfers of payments to suppliers or vendors. That’s something that’s really important. It does avoid the whole wire-transfer issue if you have an analogue process in place where they literally do pick up the phone and call a colleague to validate a request of that nature.
  4. You want to be able to implement password resets much more frequently. So, for example, some organizations will have password resets done every 30 days. Given the environment we’re in you may want to consider having that period shortened.
  5. And then lastly, we’re all accustomed to calling helpdesk for various issues that come up. I think in the event of working remotely, where something does seem suspicious or odd, having that protocol in place to report it back to IT and have them take the proper steps and have that done quickly so that there’s no lag time is really a key element.

Peggy: Thank you, Imran. Sunny, would you be willing to give us a sense of the kinds of issues you’re seeing on the cybersecurity front from clients these days?

Sunny Handa: Sure. You know, we’ve had a lot of experience over the past couple of years dealing with all sorts of different breaches. What we’re noticing now ― and I don’t know if this is a result of the fact that everybody is in some form of isolation at home ― we’re seeing a lot of business emails compromised.

We’re also starting to see, you know, ransomware changes, in the sense that there are different variants that are being put out there. So, these are different types of malware we’re seeing in the market. They are pretty nasty, and we’re also seeing the ransom demands shifting.

So, it’s a toxic mix of things that I think we’re starting to see. Whether it’s as a result of the isolation or not is sort of hard to say. It's contemporaneous, meaning it’s happening at the same time. I suspect some of it is due to the fact that people are, for example, you might be sending things to a home email address now because you’re going to be at home and so you might not be on a guarded, wall-protected system at work, so perhaps some of those are related to isolation that we’re all doing. But it could also be because we were on a bit of curve upwards in terms of seeing cyber breaches happen ― hard to know.

Peggy: When you talk about ransomware, what kind of changes are you seeing? Are you willing to talk about it?

Sunny: Sure. We’re starting to see different variants come out with more frequency by variant, I think it’s like sort of an apropos analogy. These are different types of viruses that are being modified. Unlike a biological virus, with these types of viruses we’re starting to see hacker groups come out with different types and unleash them.

In terms of changes, I’d say that one of the biggest changes ― the most dramatic that we’ve seen ― is the price of ransomware. Now, ransomware is not the only type of attack but it is the most common that we seem to be seeing in the Canadian marketplace, and the ransom demands, meaning the ask in terms of compensation to unlock your system, seems to have gone up quite dramatically over the past 12 months. Whereas, you know, two, three years ago we would see, you know, a few thousand dollars here and there for different types of attacks, and we’d never see anything north of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now, it is ― I wouldn’t say it’s the norm ― but it is not surprising when we get asks in the millions of dollars for big enterprises. 

Peggy: Apart from those changes both in terms of the escalation of price on the ransomware, and I’ll say the wiliness of the approach, are you seeing other issues now whether because of COVID or because of just ― we’re a couple of years into this cybersecurity practice. What are you seeing that’s changing as a whole?

Sunny: Well, I think we’re getting ― first of all, our practice has been inundated with breach work, you know, over the past year, so you know, we’ve been seeing, I guess, a growth in the service industry that services these breaches, not just ourselves ― forensic providers, you know. Also, PR firms, insurers have become much more sophisticated in terms of insuring the risks and attending to clients who might be looking for cyber insurance. So, I think that’s something that I think I’ve noticed that’s changed.

I’ve also seen businesses reaching out with greater frequency, but not enough in advance of being breached, in other words, doing the preparation work. So, you know, part of our practice is handling breaches that are in progress, which is not fun for any client to go through, but other clients are calling us ahead of time saying: “You know, before this happens to us, is there anything we need to do, or are there some best practices we need to engage in? You know, can you help us?” So, I think those are the most notable changes.

Peggy: Sunny, thank you very much.

Mathieu: Imran and Sunny work closely with our national Cybersecurity team, including litigator Nicole Henderson, who joins us now. Nicole, you often become involved following an incident. In order to respond properly, is there anything companies need to be thinking about right now?

Nicole Henderson: Well, from a litigation perspective, our approach to breach response is always focused on minimizing or mitigating litigation risk as much as possible, particularly class action risk. And so, we would really encourage organizations to be thinking very carefully about their cybersecurity incident response plans at this time.

So first of all, of course, if your organization doesn’t already have a cybersecurity incident response plan, this is really a key time to develop one. And if you do, it’s also a good opportunity to take the time to review it carefully and think about whether any adjustments are going to be necessary to address the current circumstances. So, just as an example, a common first step in a breach response plan is to assemble the key people on your breach response team.

So, ask yourself now: Do you know how to connect with those people quickly in a world where you all may be working remotely? Or if you’re locked out of your system due to an attack, do you have home or cell phone numbers for everyone on your team in a world where you can’t just walk down the hall and let them know what’s going on? Would you have secure methods of communicating with all those people? Those questions sound simple, but in a crisis response scenario, you don’t want to have to spend precious hours thinking through how to adapt in the moment. Better to do that thinking upfront and be confident that your organization will be prepared to act quickly and decisively if the worst happens.

Imran: And just building on what Nicole mentioned, one of the things we have seen being a big factor in terms of an effective response is the speed of execution. So, all of the elements that Nicole mentioned with respect to the cyber response plan and the type of tweaking that the organizations have to make to it are absolutely critical. For example, even thinking about insurance and forensic firms that may be required to help in a crisis scenario while folks are working remotely is going to be a key element to be addressed in the incident response plans, so that you can reach out to them quickly and that they can get proper accesses so that they can start to work on remediation.

Who do you contact obviously internally, but external vendors is really key when it comes to an effective cyber response. In fact, there is a direct correlation in terms of speed of execution to responding to an incident, and the ability of an organization to mitigate the impact, or at least the very negative impacts related to cybersecurity-type of incidents.

Peggy: Imran and Nicole, whether we’re working remotely or we’re back in our offices, what kind of things do you advise Canadian businesses to start thinking about in terms of enterprise risk management, if they haven’t already started down that path?

Nicole: Peggy, this isn’t related directly to the pandemic, but for a number of years now, we’ve seen a really a significant increase in cybersecurity class actions, and this really seems to be a growth area for some entrepreneurial class counsel, which is a significant enterprise risk issue for all kinds of organizations. In recent years, we’re finding that it’s not uncommon to see one or more class actions filed within a day or two of a disclosure of a significant data breach. So, things really do move very quickly, even while an organization may still be dealing with breach response.

The good news that we have seen are signs in several cases that a prompt and effective breach response really can mitigate litigation risks. So either supporting arguments against certification of a class action, or even militating in favour of a more modest settlement than might otherwise have been the case. So, this is really a good time, as we say, to be focused on these issues and not let your guard down.

Imran: From my perspective, there are two key elements that organizations can think about and start working on either within a COVID-19 world that we currently live in or when folks start getting back to the office afterwards. The first one is really understanding and managing the entity or the organization’s digital footprint. Understanding what data they have, where they keep it, and how they keep it. That data mapping, that data inventory exercise, is a really critical one, and that can have a direct impact in terms of not only just responding to a breach, but understanding what kind of legal obligations organizations may have either in Canada or elsewhere that they may be operating. So that would be number one.

Number two, and this sounds like something that we would probably hear in a school, but preparation or practice makes perfect. Making sure that organizations are really focused on the key elements of a response, maybe through a tabletop exercise, or having a revised and updated or, frankly, a practical cyber response like Nicole had outlined a little bit earlier, are going to be all key elements, including training staff on a regular basis, especially in a COVID-19 world, with what is good cyber hygiene: flagging suspicious emails; being on alert for any abnormal activity; if you get a request for an account transfer or change of banking details, being a bit more vigilant and take that extra step to be able to verify the validity of that request.

So, these are all tactical steps, but more practically speaking, the preparation and the readiness of the organization is really something that organizations should be focusing on.

Mathieu: Thank you. Imran, Sunny and Nicole, you’ve given us a lot to think about. I know you have other presentations and bulletins coming up, as well as a cybersecurity study.

Peggy: Listeners, if you’d like more information, please check out the Blakes COVID-19 Resource Centre on our website. Until next time, stay safe, online and at home.

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Episode 1: Employment and Labour in the Time of COVID-19

From occupational health challenges to cyber risks, privacy and work-from-home policies, Blakes Employment & Labour lawyers Daryl Cukierman (Toronto), Natalie Bussière (Montréal), Birch Miller (Calgary) and Michael Howcroft (Vancouver) discuss the key issues that Canadian employers are facing during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.

Transcript

Mathieu: Hi, I’m Mathieu Rompré from the Communications team at Blakes, and I’m here with my colleague Peggy Moss.

Peggy: Hi, welcome to the Continuity podcast.

Mathieu: We’ve all been reading a lot about COVID-19 and have felt the impact on just about everything, from public health to politics to the complicated dynamics of working from home.

Peggy: So much to think about. On Continuity, we’re narrowing the focus. We will look at how Canadian businesses and their leaders are coping with the legal hurdles and driving forward in complicated times. And we’ll talk to the lawyers helping them — wait for it, continue and succeed.

Mathieu: But first, a cautionary note: this podcast does not constitute legal advice. You can call or email us for that. Second, in case you are wondering what you are getting yourselves into, here’s our commitment to you: we’ll keep it practical, we’ll stay business-focused because that’s what we know and what we do best, and we we’ll be candid, not alarmist.

Peggy: And here is your part: if we miss the mark, please let us know. Email or call us to remind us of the terms of this contract.

Mathieu: So, wash your hands, grab your ginger shooter and pump up the volume, we are about to kick things off with our first topic of the Blakes Continuity Podcast: Employment and Labour in the Time of COVID-19.

Mathieu: We’re joined by Daryl Cukierman, a Partner in our Employment & Labour group in Ontario. Daryl, I know you and the rest of the team have been really busy lately. Could you tell us about some of the most common questions you get from employers?

Daryl Cukierman: Sure, and thanks for having me join today. We have been seeing a wide range of issues as this is in a very fluid and unprecedented environment. I would say that the most notable issues have been:

  1. Whether to pay employees who have been unable to work due to COVID-19-related reasons, including those on self-quarantine. On that point, each case must be considered on its own facts, but generally, if the employee’s absence has been at the request of the employer, for example, a request for self-quarantine mandated by the employer following a return from a trip abroad, then it’s more likely the employer will be prepared to pay for such absence.

  2. I would say occupational health and safety considerations has been a very big piece, and in this case, namely ensuring that the employer is taking all reasonable precautions in the circumstances for the protection of its workers, being proactive and vigilant with health and safety walls ― so, put the employer in a good position in responding to any formal work refusals by employees.

  3. And more recently, determining if a client falls within an essential service or essential workplace in Ontario so as to allow it to remain open during this period. On that point, in Ontario under the Essential Workplace Declaration, tele-working and online commerce are certainly permitted at all times for all businesses and the rest of the list that has been put forward by the Ontario government has generally been viewed as being quite broad. But there are, of course, clearly many businesses that may not remain open during this time, and we have been working with clients to assess this list for their particular set of circumstances.

Peggy: Daryl, when we’re talking about those employers who have stayed open, what are the biggest concerns you’re hearing from HR directors and others who are trying to figure out how to keep working in this environment?

Daryl: I’d say the biggest item that we’re dealing with and hearing about is on the occupational health and safety front, certainly one of the biggest items would be on that front.

As I mentioned earlier, employers should be taking all reasonable precautions in the circumstances for the protection of their workers. Now, this is codified as a general requirement in the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act and has really become a core guiding principle for employers to follow in the COVID-19 environment.

In practice, this means increasing the frequency of sanitizing or cleaning workstations or high-traffic areas, encouraging physical distancing between employees in the workplace, avoiding or significantly eliminating in-person meetings, so moving to videoconference or telephone calls, wherever possible, providing extra hand-sanitizer stations and encouraging employees to use them frequently. Putting up additional signage in the workplace reminding people to wash hands and signage or policies reminding employees to avoid attending work if they are experiencing any symptoms associated with COVID-19.

Mathieu: And what’s the big risk for employers on the working-from-home front?

Daryl: Well, this is a novel environment for many employers, and I think it is important for employers to continue to check in regularly with their employees who are working from home during this time, especially those who may not otherwise be used to or accustomed to working from home. And, so, that basically means making sure they remain engaged, making sure they have proper contact information if they do have questions or concerns, so that might be their HR director or manager, their supervisor, their manager.

Teleconferences or regular phone calls are also naturally a good way to check in, and it’s also a good idea to remind employees that all company policies continue to apply even while working from home, and so this would include policies around, for example, confidentiality, non-disclosure, IT security.

So, we’re recommending that employers emphasize these points as necessary or as they see fit to make that work-from-home environment flow properly and smoothly.

Peggy: Thank you, Daryl. Our clients across Canada face a range of issues, so we are going to talk to lawyers in a few different jurisdictions starting with Alberta, where we’ll talk with Birch Miller, and B.C., where we’ll be joined by Mike Howcroft. Birch, can we start with you? What are you hearing from clients in Alberta?

Birch: Thanks, Peggy. So, Daryl mentioned that adhering to employer policies around confidentiality and IT security, and I just want to build on that. Remote working can introduce weaknesses as a result of employees connecting to networks by unsecured connections, using their own personal devices, or even having physical copies of company information at home. And what we’ve been doing is advising employers with respect to taking steps to ensure all remote connections are secure, ensuring antivirus and malware software are up to date and reminding workers about best practices regarding remote working, such as using Wi-Fi networks and safe-guarding sensitive information.

Peggy: Birch, thank you. Are you talking to clients about similar issues on the work-from-home and remote-working front, Mike?

Mike: I agree with Daryl and Birch that data security is one of the important issues with working from home. But I think there is also a practical component in that, in addition to making sure your computer is secure, you need to make sure your workplace at home is secured as well. While you need to make sure you don’t get hacked, you also need to make sure that you’re conducting work in a private space so that your family and people you live with aren’t necessarily accessing confidential information.

I also think it’s important for employers to remember that the rules around hours of work and other employment standards issues continue to apply if you are working from home. So, ensuring you’re monitoring employees and that they’re not working excessive hours or otherwise contravening employment standards requirements is also something employers need to consider when they are setting up a work-from-home arrangement.

Peggy: What are some of the concerns you are hearing from clients in Alberta?

Birch: In Alberta, the COVID situation has come during a time when many of our clients are also facing historical lows in oil prices. So, in that regard, clients in the energy as well as other industries are asking about strategies to preserve the business while trying to limit negative consequences to the workers. So, in that regard, a frequent question we have been asked is: “How can contemporary layoffs be coupled with government benefits to employees?”

Also, similar to Daryl in Ontario, we are speaking with clients about the Alberta government restrictions on workplaces. Just last week on March 27, the Alberta government required the closure of certain non-essential businesses and, for other businesses, implemented restrictions, such as limits on groupings of more than 15 people, social distancing of two metres and enforcement of hygiene procedures and processes to ensure ill workers do not come to visit the workplace. These restrictions have generated a lot of discussions with our clients and will continue to do so.

Peggy: Mike, are you hearing issues similar to that in B.C.?

Mike: Yes, Peggy. In British Columbia, we have two categories of businesses. The businesses that are being impacted directly by the COVID-19 crisis are either required to shut down or have seen a significant drop in business operations that have required looking at layoffs, wage reductions or hours reductions to manage the financial impact of this crisis. For other clients, they are trying to manage either moving their employees from an office environment to working from home or, where they have ongoing operations, trying to keep these employees safe in the workplace and comply with the various occupational health and safety requirements in light of the unique circumstances surrounding COVID-19.

Peggy: Okay, so what are some of the concerns you are hearing from HR directors and others who are trying to figure out how to work best in this environment?

Birch: In addition to the point that I heard from Daryl, I would note one of the other points we’re hearing from my HR directors are concern for their employees: concern with respect to stress and mental illness. Employees are, of course, dealing with childcare concerns, financial stresses, concern for their health, the health of their family members and general worry for the state of the world and the economy. These are worries that they are not necessary dealing with on a day-to-day basis before this pandemic.

So, these stressors can be exacerbated by an employee radically changed work environment ― working from home or perhaps a different office environment ― and HR directors are looking for ways to connect with their employees, communicate with support resources and offer accommodation where needed.

Peggy: Mike?

Mike: Thanks, Peggy. One of the unique issues that I’ve seen arise from human resources directors in British Columbia is that British Columbia, like Alberta, has quite strict privacy requirements and many of my clients have been trying to manage those privacy requirements against the occupational health and safety issues with regards to keeping workers safe. For example, I’ve had many questions about what a client should do if an employee reports that they have tested positive for COVID-19, which would normally be employee personal information that should not be disclosed to co-workers. But in these unique circumstances, they may have to balance that privacy right with the requirement to keep other employees safe.

Mathieu: Thank you, Mike. And to wrap up this employment and labour episode of our Continuity Podcast, we are heading to la belle province to talk to Natalie Bussière. She is a Partner at Blakes in Quebec. Natalie, what about the clients in Quebec? Same concerns?

Natalie: Basically, we’re faced with the same types of questions and issues. I may add that we noticed certain additional concerns in the industrial sector, very likely because sometimes the work organization is slightly different ― people are closer together. So, for example, in terms of requesting that employees not come to work after a trip abroad, for example, some clients were quite quick to react and also implement measures to make sure that people did not come to work. So, the interest to pay them to stay at home was greater, I think, because they wanted to avoid contamination in the workplace.

Same thing with respect to the perceived risk by certain employees. The crisis developed right after the school break in Quebec. People know that a lot of people travel abroad during that period of time, so a lot of questions were raised by other employees concerned about the return to work of some of their colleagues that they knew had travelled abroad. So, it actually triggered quite a strong reaction by employers who wanted to make sure that (a) they were protecting their workforce, and (b) that they ensured that their continued operations were not in jeopardy.

Mathieu: Natalie, we heard recently that community spread is more prevalent than contamination due to travel. Does this raise new concerns for your clients?

Natalie: Yes, and it brings me to speak a bit more about the health and safety concerns. Because we discussed, of course, what I would call the internal measures, so, for example, reminding employees to wash their hands, to keep a reasonable distance from their co-workers and the other measures that we discussed ― asking employees to stay at home if they have symptoms or if they have travelled abroad during the recommended quarantine. But some employees have expressed concerns regarding suppliers, visitors, the delivery of materials or even basically envelopes, so whether or not they could be contaminated. So, some clients have implemented measures to remind visitors to adopt certain measures in order to ensure that there was no contamination either by the physical persons or by whatever they were bringing into the workplace. So, I think this came more to the forefront because of the fact that people now know that it is not only what I would call a specific population that may spread the disease but whoever was in contact with the disease, who can be anybody now.

So, one other thing that I would like to mention is the evolution of priority services in Quebec. As my colleague mentioned, in some provinces, including Ontario, the government has enacted a list of enterprises that are authorized to continue their operations despite the current situation. In Quebec, the government has done this, and this list is updated on a regular basis. So, we recommend, of course, that clients keep themselves informed as to the recent developments. The idea, of course, is to ensure that what I would call “society” can still function and that primary services are given to the population.

What we have seen as well is that, of course, because employees in those industries are called upon to continue working, those industries are quite sensitive to the employers taking measures to make sure that they can still continue to operate safely for the employees to, of course, avoid contamination but also to ensure that the employees will keep on coming to work and feel like they are safe in their environment. As Daryl mentioned, it is a positive obligation imposed on employers to make sure that their workforce is not put into a work environment that is unhealthy or that can create risks for their health and safety.

Mathieu: Thank you, merci, Natalie. That’s it for today. Thank you for listening. We hope you enjoyed the first episode of this podcast.

Peggy: Over the next few weeks, our topics will include issues impacting a wide range of sectors and industries. Please check out the Blakes COVID-19 Resource Centre for updates and let your friends know where to find us. All of us at Blakes wish you and your loved ones good health.

Mathieu: Until next time, be well and stay safe.

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