On March 31, 2018, the new rules from the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) on distributions of securities outside of Canada came into force. OSC Rule 72-503 Distributions Outside Canada (Rule 72-503) provides clarity on a previously opaque subject in Canadian securities law: how do market participants comply with securities law when selling securities to buyers that reside in other countries? In response to this ambiguity, Rule 72-503 creates four new exemptions from the Ontario prospectus requirement for issuers distributing securities to buyers residing in other countries.

Background

Since its publication in 1983, Interpretation Note 1 Distributions of Securities of Ontario (Interpretation Note) governed OSC policy on distributions outside of Canada. As a statement of principle, the Interpretation Note allows distributions of securities effected outside of Ontario without triggering Ontario’s prospectus requirement where “reasonable steps are taken by the issuer, underwriter and other participants effecting such distributions to ensure that such securities come to rest outside of Ontario.” The Interpretation Note then cites several examples of such “reasonable steps” including representations in the selling documents and legends on the securities, without committing to a bright-line test or concrete criteria. In the intervening decades, market participants have often complained about the vagueness of the Interpretation Note and the corresponding lack of certainty to international securities offerings in an increasingly globalized world.


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In recent years, crowdfunding has proven an exceptionally popular and efficient means by which individuals and companies make use of the internet to attract investors for a variety of purposes. The traditional model generally involves a large number of individuals contributing small sums of money to finance specific ideas or projects. Increasingly, however, equity crowdfunding is emerging as a way for start-ups and early-stage companies that are non-reporting issuers to raise capital at an earlier stage of development through the issuance of securities. Equity crowdfunding has already proven successful in certain foreign jurisdictions, and is expected to make an impact in Canada.

Following a consultation period held early last year, the securities regulators of British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Québec and Saskatchewan (Jurisdictions) announced on May 14, 2015 that they have implemented, or expect to implement in the near future, changes to their securities legislation to provide for registration and prospectus exemptions for start-ups and early-stage companies that wish to raise capital through crowdfunding. Businesses wishing to rely on the exemptions will be able to conduct crowdfunding distributions in the Jurisdictions.

The start-up crowdfunding exemption actually consists of two distinct exemptions. The first is a prospectus exemption for start-up companies seeking to raise capital. The second is a dealer registration exemption for persons wishing to operate a funding portal, a platform which facilitates start-up crowdfunding distributions.

The Jurisdictions plan to implement these exemptions by way of local blanket orders. The conditions associated with the two exemptions are outlined in Multilateral CSA Notice 45-316 Start-up Crowdfunding Registration and Prospectus Exemptions (CSA 45-316), and are summarized below. The start-up crowdfunding exemptions will be effective in each Jurisdiction concurrently with, or as soon as possible after, the publication of the notice of CSA 45-316. Each exemption order is available, or will be available shortly, on the websites of each Jurisdiction’s securities regulatory authority.

The start-up prospectus exemption

The start-up prospectus exemption permits non-reporting issuers to issue eligible securities, subject to a number of conditions. The key conditions are:
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