In August 2017, we considered the guidance offered by the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) regarding the application of securities laws to the blockchain industry and initial coin offerings (ICOs), primarily as set out in CSA Staff Notice 46-307 Cryptocurrency Offerings. In that post, we noted that the CSA have provided little guidance regarding when they would consider cryptocurrencies to be securities, and thus subject to Canadian securities rules.
Bill C-25 is a federal government bill that would, if adopted, introduce sweeping changes to the corporate governance regime for reporting issuers incorporated under the Canada Business Corporations Act (CBCA). Like the proverbial tortoise, the bill has moved unhurriedly through the legislative process, in part due to several changes made to the bill since our previous post that discussed Bill C-25. The bill’s enactment would be just one of many “finish lines”, and it may take several years for all provisions of the bill and accompanying regulations to be drafted and brought into force. This post will canvass the amendments made so far to Bill C-25, with a focus on the proposed gender diversity disclosure framework, and will show a path forward to its eventual coming into force.
On March 7, 2018 the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) released a “Statement on Potentially Unlawful Online Platforms for Trading Digital Assets”. The statement is a warning to investors, service providers operating platforms through which digital assets are traded, and those providing ancillary services involving the transfer or maintenance of digital assets
With regard to investors, the SEC’s principal suggestion was to conduct diligence to ensure online trading platforms with which investors engage are SEC-registered and regulated marketplaces, whether as national securities exchanges, alternative trading systems, or broker-dealers.
Gender diversity during proxy season and National Instrument 58-101 Disclosure of Corporate Governance Practices (NI 58-101) are reviewed when CSA releases their staff notice regarding compliance for 2018 (as reported in our Timely Disclosure posts in 2017, 2016 and 2015). In celebration of international women’s day, here is a recap of gender diversity promotion and a preview of discussion points to come at the end of proxy season 2018:
Increasing the number of women in powerful positions has the potential to transform our workplaces and society.
In May 2016, sweeping changes to the Canadian take-over bid regime came into effect. The stated purpose of the new rules included the goal of rebalancing the dynamics between hostile bidders and target boards by extending the minimum bid period to 105 days, and mandating a 50% mandatory minimum tender condition and a ten-day extension once all bid conditions have been satisfied or waived. We published our Canadian Hostile Take-Over Bid Study in the spring of 2015, just over a year before the new rules came into force. In that study, we expressed concern that strengthening a target board’s hand could result in a decrease in hostile bid activity. Over the past year, various commentators have suggested that the new rules have had no adverse impact on hostile bid activity. We are not so sure.
We noted in our post of January 18, 2018 that the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) were reconsidering whether the CSA’s disclosure-based approach for issuers with U.S. marijuana-related activities remained appropriate. The CSA’s reconsideration was triggered by an announcement on January 4, 2018 by Jeff Sessions, Attorney General of the United States, which expressly rescinded previous nationwide guidance from the Obama-era specific to marijuana enforcement (or forbearance therefrom) in the United States, including a “Memorandum for All United States Attorneys” dated August 29, 2013 from James M. Cole, then-Deputy Attorney General of the United States. As we noted, while medicinal marijuana is legal in numerous American states and recreational marijuana is legal in several states, marijuana remains illegal at the federal level in the United States, thus creating a dilemma for the CSA with respect to Canadian issuers with marijuana-related activities in the United States.
On February 8, 2018, the CSA published CSA Staff Notice 51-352 (Revised) Issuers with U.S. Marijuana-Related Activities (Revised 51-352), setting out the expectations of CSA staff with respect to disclosure for specific risks faced by issuers with marijuana-related activities in the United States. In short, the CSA have maintained their disclosure-based approach for Canadian issuers with marijuana-related activities in the United States, as opposed to prohibiting such issuers from raising funds in Canada or listing on a Canadian stock exchange. Issuers will continue to be able to raise funds and list in Canada, notwithstanding the fact that their operations may be illegal under United States federal law and that they may face prosecution at any time, as long as such risks are adequately disclosed.
On January 18, 2018, the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) published and requested comments for a proposed change to OSC Policy 15-601 Whistleblower Program (Policy). The Whistleblower Program came into effect in July 2016 and is intended to encourage individuals to report information on serious securities-related misconduct to the OSC to prevent or limit harm to investors, in exchange for financial compensation.
Under the Whistleblower Program, individuals who report original information that is of meaningful assistance to OSC staff in investigating the matter and obtaining a decision under section 127 of the Securities Act (Ontario) (Securities Act) or section 60 of the Commodity Futures Act, and resulting in sanctions of $1,000,000 or more, may be eligible for an award between 5 and 15% of the total sanctions imposed and/or voluntary payments made in the relevant proceedings.
Concurrent with the Policy coming into effect, the Securities Act was amended to provide Whistleblowers with protection against retaliatory action by employers for seeking advice on whistleblowing or for reporting securities violations.
Proposed Change: In-House Counsel Eligibility
As the Policy stands, those who provide legal services to an employer that is the subject of the whistleblower submission, i.e. legal professionals working in-house, are permitted to make a submission where:
- the whistleblower has a reasonable basis to believe that disclosure of the information is necessary to prevent substantial injury to the financial interest or property of the entity or investors of the entity to which the submission relates;
- the whistleblower has a reasonable basis to believe that the violating entity is engaging in conduct that will impede an investigation of the misconduct; or
- at least 120 days have passed since the whistleblower reported the information to the entity’s audit committee, chief legal officer, CCO or the individual’s supervisor, or at least 120 days have passed since the whistleblower learned that one or more of those individuals were already aware of the information.
In-house counsel often work in a unique legal/business advisor role. Consequently, the Law Society of Ontario had raised concerns that allowing in-house counsel to be eligible for the Whistleblower Program could encourage reporting on information that is subject to solicitor-client privilege and go against other such professional obligations. In response, the proposed change would make in-house counsel acting in their legal capacity ineligible for the Whistleblower Program. In-house counsel acting in a non-legal capacity would continue to be eligible where they meet the above exemption requirements and where the disclosure would not go against applicable law society rules. How this distinction is to be made is less clear.
Comments on the proposed change will be received by the OSC until March 20, 2018.
Annual meetings of shareholders of public companies often feature: attendance by a modest number of shareholders, and by the company’s external legal counsel, auditor, investor-relations firm, service providers and other assorted hangers-on; the casting of virtually all votes prior to the meeting by way of proxy; perfunctory reviews of the past fiscal year by the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer; and one or two desultory questions from shareholders. In short, annual meetings haven’t evolved in the last 30 years. Excitement arises only if activist shareholders storm the meeting or if unionized employees speak, particularly if a strike is threatened or in progress.
It’s time for public companies to bring their annual meetings into the digital age and to use them as an effective means of communicating with a large number of shareholders and with the investment community in general. A revamped annual meeting may even lead to reduced costs when compared to the traditional model of renting a conference room at a hotel and providing refreshments, as modest as they may be, for shareholders. Canadian corporate law provides a framework which can be used to increase shareholder access to annual meetings and to maximize the impact of annual meetings.
As noted in our post of October 18, 2017, the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) issued CSA Staff Notice 51-352 Issuers with U.S. Marijuana-Related Activities on October 16, 2017. The CSA Staff Notice noted the discrepancy between United States federal and state law as it relates to the use and sale of marijuana. In short, while medicinal marijuana is legal in numerous American states and recreational marijuana is legal in several states, marijuana remains illegal at the federal level in the United States.
The CSA Staff Notice stated that how a company with marijuana activities in the United States ensures compliance with U.S. state-level regulatory frameworks forms an important part of that company’s Canadian continuous disclosure record, and set out specific, detailed disclosure requirements for issuers with marijuana-related activities in the United States, applicable to continuous disclosure documents such as an annual information form (AIF) or management’s discussion and analysis (MD&A), and to a prospectus in the event of a public offering.
All of that may have changed on January 4, 2018, when Jeff Sessions, Attorney General of the United States, issued a one-page “Memorandum for All United States Attorneys” regarding “Marijuana Enforcement” (Sessions Memorandum). The Sessions Memorandum expressly rescinded, effective immediately, previous nationwide guidance specific to marijuana enforcement in the United States, including a “Memorandum for All United States Attorneys” dated August 29, 2013 from James M. Cole, then-Deputy Attorney General of the United States, entitled “Guidance Regarding Marijuana Enforcement”. A press release issued by the U.S Department of Justice contemporaneous with the Sessions Memorandum announced that the Sessions Memorandum constitutes a “return to the rule of law” and that “Attorney General Jeff Sessions directs all U.S. Attorneys to enforce the laws enacted by Congress and to follow well-established principles when pursuing prosecutions related to marijuana activities”.
On December 18, 2017, the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) and the TSX Venture Exchange (TSXV, together with the TSX, the TMX Exchanges) introduced electronic versions of TSX Form 4 and TSXV Form 2A Personal Information Form and the related TSX Form 4B and TSXV Form 2C1 Declaration (the Electronic Documents).
Individuals are now able to populate their Electronic Documents on the TMX Portal.
The Electronic Documents do not need to be notarized and are executed by the individual with an electronic signature, thereby eliminating the previous requirement for an originally executed copy to be delivered the TMX Exchanges.
In addition, the TSX listing application was also amended to remove the requirement to have the listing application notarized.
Individuals may continue to submit notarized and originally executed documents in paper format to the TMX Exchanges on a voluntary basis until June 30, 2018.