Doucet v The Royal Winnipeg Ballet: Closing the Curtain on Honouraria for Representative Plaintiffs and Class Member Witnesses?

  • March 10, 2022
  • Chelsea Smith, McKenzie Lake Lawyers LLP

Of the divergent approaches to representative plaintiff honouraria across Canada’s class action regimes, Ontario’s has become one of the least permissive. Although different judges of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice have different approaches to honouraria,[1] generally, Ontario class actions law permits honouraria only in exceptional circumstances (i.e., where there is evidence that the representative plaintiff made an exceptional and necessary contribution to the preparation or presentation of the case and that this contribution resulted in success for the class).[2] Over the last few years, Ontario class actions law has become even more resistant to honouraria as more and more Ontario class action judges have trended towards (1) heightened scrutiny of evidence filed in support of honourarium requests; and, (2) avoidance of real or perceived conflicts of interest, including by reducing the requested honourarium amount.[3] This trend of rising judicial skepticism towards honouraria recently culminated in Doucet v The Royal Winnipeg Ballet,[4] a February 11, 2022 decision of Perell J of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice concluding that the practice of granting honouraria is wrong and should be stopped altogether as a matter of legal principle.[5]

This article examines the impact or possible impact of Doucet on the practice of granting honouraria at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, namely whether the curtain has closed on this practice altogether.