How to hold members’ and directors’ meetings despite COVID-19: A provincial overview

April 7, 2020 | Jordyn Allan, J. Allison Barkwell, Mary Childs, Sarah Fitzpatrick, Troy McEachren, David Tang, Katrina Kairys, Anna Kosa

This article was updated on April 24, 2020

Provinces across Canada have declared states of emergencies or public health emergencies, and issued restrictions on mass gatherings. These restrictions range from banning all gatherings to limiting the number of people who can attend at 50. Even without those restrictions there are real and legitimate concerns about how to communicate and meet in this time of physical distancing.

Many charitable and non-profit organizations are required to hold members’ meetings and directors’ meetings. Organizations are reviewing what their obligations are for holding meetings – can it be delayed until after the COVID-19 pandemic – and are exploring how to hold their meetings in a manner that allows members and directors to maintain physical distance. Many are turning to technology, and holding meetings via telephone and video conferencing. Some organizations will also be able to use indirect methods of voting, such as ballots, delegate voting, or proxy voting.

If an organization can use video conferencing to hold a meeting, there is a range of platforms available on the market. If the number of people is small, a meeting could be held on a simple smartphone application like Facetime, WhatsApp or Google Video Chat. Alternatively, for larger groups, paid for service providers like Zoom or GoToMeeting or other platforms designed for large meetings can be used. The organization will also need to review its bylaws or articles to see how votes can be conducted. Typically most voting is done by a show of hands or verbally. However, some voting may have to be conducted by a secret ballot – most commonly used in a contested director election. If the meeting platform cannot facilitate voting by secret ballot, the organization may need to use a secondary platform just for the secret ballot (e.g., a questionnaire/survey service such as SurveyMonkey).

This article provides an overview of the rules for when to hold annual general meetings and how to hold meetings under the provincial legislation in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Québec (information for Quebec is available in French). We have written on how to hold meetings under the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act in a previous article.

For additional information on COVID-19 issues, please see our COVID-19 resources page.

 

Alberta

Since this article was originally published, on April 9, 2020, the Alberta Government enacted Ministerial Order no. SA:009/2020. The Order suspended the obligation to convene an in-person AGM as stipulated in section 149(1) of the Companies Act (Alberta) and section 25 of the Societies Act (Alberta). This suspension overrides the normal requirements for holding an AGM which are described below. The Order does not preclude a corporation, company, or society from conducting a meeting, including an AGM, through remote means, such as videoconference, teleconference, or other means.

The Alberta Government has also suspended the provisions that require access to physical documents at offices, or at AGMs in the Societies Act and Companies Act, while digital access can continue to be provided.

The rules for societies under the Societies Act (Alberta) and not-for-profit organizations under the Companies Act (Alberta) are:

Annual General Meetings (AGMs)

Societies Act

A society is required to hold an AGM and present to its members an audited financial statement.

The Societies Act does not specify when the AGM must be held. However, since a society must file a copy of the audited financial statements with the annual return every year, presumably the AGM must be held after the society’s fiscal year end but before the filing deadline for the annual return (the last day of the month following the month in which the society was incorporated).

Companies Act

A company must hold an AGM each calendar year, and not more than 16 months after the last AGM. At each AGM, the directors must present financial statements for the period since the preceding statement made up to a date not more than 6 months before the meeting. This means that companies generally hold their AGM within 6 months of their fiscal year end.

The Alberta Registrar of Companies can relieve a company from the obligation to hold the AGM. The company must file a statutory declaration of a director or officer with the Registrar at least one month before the time for holding the AGM. The statutory declaration must set out certain information, including whether the company has engaged in active business since its incorporation.

A company may make an ex-parte application to the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta for an order allowing the AGM to be delayed. The Court can order that the AGM be held within 6 months after the expiration of 16 months from the date the last AGM was held.

Meetings by Telephone or Video Conference

Societies Act

The Societies Act does not contain any requirements on how AGMs are to be conducted. A society should review its bylaws to see whether they permit or prohibit telephone or video conference meetings.

Companies Act

The Companies Act does not explicitly state that AGMs can be held by telephone or video conference. The AGM must be held at the time and place provided in the company’s articles, either directly or by empowering the directors or the members in general meeting to fix the time and place. If the articles contain no such provision, or the AGM is not held in accordance with the articles, the meeting must be held at the company’s registered office in the month following the anniversary of the company’s incorporation.

Proxies and Voting Alternatives for Members

Societies Act

If permitted by the bylaws, members can appoint someone to be their proxy to attend and vote at the meeting on their behalf.

Companies Act

Under the Companies Act, every voting member is entitled to appoint a proxy to attend and act at the meeting on their behalf. However, in order for there to be a quorum to conduct business, there must be at least two members personally present, holding or representing by proxy not less than 10% of the issued capital of the company.

Adjourning or Postponing Meetings

Societies Act

The society should review its bylaws for guidance on whether it can adjourn a meeting if not enough members are present for quorum.

Companies Act

If there is not a quorum of members, the meeting will be adjourned to the same day in the next week, at the same time and place. If at the adjourned meeting a quorum is not present within half an hour of the start of the meeting, the members present will be sufficient for quorum and can conduct the business of the meeting.

Written Resolutions Instead of a Meeting

Under the Societies Act and Companies Act, it is not permissible for members to adopt written resolutions in lieu of holding an AGM. However, the members can conduct business other than the AGM business by written resolution, if the resolution is signed in writing by all of the members.

Corporate Registry Update

The Alberta Corporate Registry is continuing to maintain online services. Updates about the services can be obtained from the Government of Alberta’s website or by calling 780-427-7013 or emailing cr@gov.ab.ca.

 

British Columbia

Since this article was originally published, on April 21, 2020, the British Columbia Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor made an order under the Emergency Program Act. The Order permits a society to use telephone or other communications medium at its meetings even if the bylaws prohibited the use of such technology at meetings. In addition, the Order confirms that a meeting can be held solely by telephone or other communications medium with no physical location. If a meeting is held solely by telephone or other communications medium, the notice of meeting must provide instructions for attending at or participating in the meeting and, if applicable, instructions for how to vote at the meeting.

The rules for societies under the Societies Act (British Columbia) are:

Annual General Meetings (AGMs)

A society must hold an AGM each calendar year. A society can apply to the Registrar of Companies for an extension until March 31st of the next year. However, the society’s bylaws might require the AGM to be held by a specific date in the year.

At the AGM, societies present financial statements to their members. The financial statements must be prepared for a period ending not more than six months before the AGM. This typically means that the society will hold its AGM within six months of its fiscal year. However, it is possible to delay the meeting to a later date and still be compliant. In order to do this, the society must prepare financials that cover the last fiscal year and the additional months required to be within the six month rule.

The AGM does not have to be a physical meeting. A society is deemed to hold an AGM if all of its voting members consent in writing to a resolution covering the AGM business. The AGM is ‘held’ on the date the last voting member consents to the resolution, or a later date specified in the resolution.

Meetings by Telephone or Video Conference

Unless restricted by its bylaws, a society can hold a members’ meeting, including the AGM, by telephone or another communications medium. All of the people participating in the meeting must be able to communicate with each other, and any votes must be conducted in a manner that adequately discloses the intention of the members.

Directors are permitted to hold meetings in any manner that want, including by telephone or video, unless restricted by the bylaws.

Proxies and Voting Alternatives for Members

If permitted by the bylaws, members can appoint someone to be their proxy to attend and vote at the meeting on their behalf. The bylaws can also permit indirect or delegate voting, or voting by mail or another means of communication (such as mail-in or electronic ballots).

If using proxies or voting alternatives, it is important to carefully review the bylaws for the rules and whether the alternatives can be used for all business or only some (such as director elections). Unless the bylaws provide otherwise, the proxy must be a member of the society.

Adjourning or Postponing Meetings

If the meeting notice was sent prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the directors have the authority, if acting in good faith, to adjourn the meeting to a later date.

If a meeting is held, but not enough people participate to meet quorum, the business of the meeting cannot be conducted. The quorum for members’ meetings is three voting members, unless the bylaws set a higher number. The bylaws may have specific rules about when the meeting may be rescheduled, what is the quorum at the rescheduled meeting, or how to give notice of the rescheduled meeting.

Written Resolutions Instead of a Meeting

We discussed earlier how members can conduct the AGM by written resolution instead of holding a meeting. Members can also conduct any other business by written resolution. If the resolution is an ordinary resolution (requires a majority vote at a meeting), it can be passed in writing if the resolution is sent to all the voting members and at least 2/3rds consent in writing. A special resolution (requires at least a 2/3rds vote at a meeting) can also be passed in writing if all voting members consent.

Directors’ resolutions can also be passed by in writing instead of holding a meeting. In order to pass the resolution, all of the directors must consent, unless the bylaws set a lower threshold.

Corporate Registry Update

The BC Registries and Online Services is continuing to maintain full services, but with limited staff on site. Online services are available. Updates about the services can be obtained on the Government of British Columbia’s website or by calling 1-877-526-1526.

 

Ontario

Ontario declared a provincial state of emergency on March 17, 2020 and issued orders to close non-essential workplaces, public activities, schools, daycares, provincial parks, and bars and restaurants, with some specific exceptions.  Churches and other places of worship were also required to close.

On March 28, 2020 Ontario went further, issuing a further emergency order under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act to prohibit all organized public events and social gatherings of more than five people, effective immediately.

Since many not-for-profits and charities incorporated under the Corporations Act (Ontario) (the “Act”) have more than five members and directors, the question is whether (and how) they can hold directors and members meetings.

There is now a more recent emergency order applicable to these Ontario corporations, and this article updates our previous article discussing how to hold required and emergency directors and members meetings.

Annual General Meetings (AGMs)

The Act requires a non-share-capital corporation to hold an AGM within 18 months of its incorporation and subsequently, within 15 months of its last AGM.  AGMs allow presentation of its financial statements, which must be prepared for the fiscal period that ended no more than six months before the AGM.  This means that a corporation with a December 31 fiscal year end would need to hold its AGM in the next few months.

Pursuant to a provincial emergency order filed on March 30, 2020 (the “Order”), the statutory AGM deadlines have been extended to account for the Province’s period of declared emergency.  Specifically, if the last day an AGM must be held (a) falls during the emergency period, it may now be held within the 90 days after the emergency is terminated or (b) falls after the emergency period but within 30 days after the end of the emergency period, then the deadline is extended another 30 days (to 120 days). For other Ontario corporations, if the last day an AGM must be held falls during the emergency period, it may now be held within the 90 days after the emergency is terminated.

The declaration of provincial emergency commenced on March 17, 2020 and will be in effect until at least April 14, 2020.

Meetings by Telephone or Video Conference

The Act allowed telephonic and video meetings, subject to limitations.  The Order removes those limitations, allowing both directors’ and members’ meetings to be held by telephone or other electronic means, despite any provisions in its letters patent, supplementary letters patent or bylaws that provide otherwise.  A member who, through those means, votes at or even establishes a communications link to the meeting is deemed to be present at the meeting.

The Order does not explicitly permit the giving of electronic notice of a meeting.  It is possible that the decisions made at meetings held pursuant to such a notice could be challenged.  If the corporation’s bylaw does not permit electronic notice, the directors should amend the bylaw as generally discussed in our previous article.

Furthermore, it is important not to confuse the ability to hold an electronic or telephonic meeting with the ability to vote electronically.  The Order does not necessarily change a prohibition against electronic voting which may exist for certain types of decisions, even if the meeting is held electronically.

Proxies and Voting Alternatives for Members Unable to Attend

The Act permits members to appoint a proxy holder (who need not be a member of the corporation) to vote at the meeting on their behalf.   A proxy is valid only at the meeting for which it is given or at the continuation of that meeting after an adjournment.  However, some Ontario corporations take advantage of the provisions allowing delegate voting, which eliminate proxy voting and do require the delegate to be a member.

Quorum

The Order does not change any quorum requirements.  It is likely that some corporations with a history of in-person meetings will find their members ill prepared for an electronic/telephonic meeting and lack of quorum may preclude the meeting.   If there is such a possibility, the directors should consider amending the bylaw as generally discussed in our previous article.

Written Resolutions Instead of a Meeting

Directors’ resolutions can be passed in writing instead of holding a meeting if all directors consent.

Members can also conduct any business by written resolution sent to all voting members.   Both ordinary resolutions (which require a majority vote at a meeting) and special resolutions (which require at least a two-thirds vote at a meeting) require the written consent of all voting members.

Government Process Updates

A recent emergency order requires service of documents on the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee (“OPGT”) to be effected by email until further notice.  The OPGT’s Charitable Property Program remains operational.

There are presently no changes to the process for filing incorporation documentation with the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services.  However, electronic filing of certain forms is available through a Service Provider for an additional fee.

 

Quebec

The rules for a legal person with no share “Non-share Capital Corporation” under the Companies Act (Quebec) are:

Annual General Meetings (AGMs)

A Non-share Capital Corporation must hold an AGM each calendar year at the time and place indicated in the Letters Patent or general bylaws. In the absence of such provisions, the date is fixed by the Companies Act (Quebec) as the fourth Wednesday in January in every year, and, if such day be a holiday, then on the next following working day.

At the AGM, Non-share Capital Corporations present their financial statements to their members. The financial statements must be prepared for a period ending not more than four months before the AGM. This typically means that the Non-share Capital Corporation will hold its AGM within four months of its fiscal year. However, it is possible to delay the meeting to a later date and still be compliant. In order to do this, the society must prepare financials that cover the last fiscal year and the additional months required to be within the four-month rule.

Since November 6, 2019, unless restricted in the bylaws, the AGM does not have to be a physical meeting. A Non-share Capital Corporation is deemed to hold an AGM if all of its voting members consent in writing to a resolution covering the AGM business. The AGM is ‘held’ on the date the last voting member consents to the resolution, or at a later date specified in the resolution.

Meetings by Telephone or Video Conference

Unless restricted by its bylaws, a Non-share Capital Corporation can hold a members’ meeting, including the AGM, by telephone or another communication medium. All of the people participating in the meeting must be able to communicate with each other, and any votes must be conducted in a manner that adequately discloses the intention of the members.

Directors are permitted to hold meetings in any manner that they want, including by telephone or video, unless restricted by the bylaws.

Proxies and Voting Alternatives for Members

It is not permitted for a member to be represented by another person as proxy voting under the Companies Act (Quebec). If, however, the member is a corporation, it will be represented by the individual in conformity with its general bylaws.

Adjourning or Postponing Meetings

If the meeting notice was sent prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we believe that the directors have the authority, if acting in good faith, to adjourn the meeting to a later date even though the Companies Act (Quebec) is silent on such authority. This logically follows from the fact that the directors have the fiduciary duty to manage the affairs of the corporation and have an obligation to respect mandatory health orders.

If a meeting is held, but not enough people participate to meet quorum, the meeting cannot be conducted. The quorum for members’ meetings is the majority of voting members unless the bylaws set a higher or lower number. The bylaws may have specific rules about when the meeting may be rescheduled, what is the quorum at the rescheduled meeting, or how to give notice of the rescheduled meeting.

Written Resolutions Instead of a Meeting

We mentioned earlier that members can conduct the AGM by written resolution instead of holding a meeting. Members can also conduct any other business by written resolution so long as all of the voting members sign the resolution.

Directors’ resolutions can also be passed by in writing instead of holding a meeting. In order to pass the resolution, all of the directors must sign the resolution.

Corporate Registry Update

The Registraire des entreprises is continuing to maintain full services, but with limited staff on site. Online services are available. Updates about the services can be obtained at: Registraire des entreprises.

 

Saskatchewan

The rules for corporations under the Non-profit Corporations Act, 1995 (Saskatchewan) (the “SK Act”) are:

Annual General Meetings (AGMs)

A corporation must hold an AGM not later than 18 months after the corporation comes into existence and then not later than 15 months after holding the preceding AGM.

At the AGM, corporations present financial statements to their members. The financial statements must be prepared for a period ending not more than four months before the AGM. This typically means that the corporation will hold its AGM within four months of its fiscal year end.

The AGM does not have to be a physical meeting. A corporation is deemed to hold an AGM if all of its voting members consent in writing to a resolution covering the AGM business. The AGM is ‘held’ on the date the last voting member consents to the resolution, or a later date specified in the resolution.

Meetings by Telephone or Video Conference

The SK Act is silent on whether a corporation can hold a members’ meeting, including the AGM, by telephone or another communications medium. Therefore, while in the age of Skype, Google and other video conferencing services, it would seem archaic for a court to overturn a meeting where quorum is represented electronically, there is at least some risk to doing so.

Unless restricted by the bylaws and provided that all of the directors of the corporation consent, a director is expressly permitted to participate in a meeting by means of telephone or other communication facilities.

Proxies and Voting Alternatives for Members

If permitted by the articles of the corporation, members can appoint someone to be their proxy to attend and vote at the meeting on their behalf. The articles or bylaws can also permit voting by mail in ballots.

If using proxies or voting alternatives, it is important to carefully review the articles and bylaws for the rules and to consider whether the alternatives can be used for all business or only some (such as director elections). Unless the bylaws provide otherwise, the proxy must be a member of the corporation.

Adjourning or Postponing Meetings

If a meeting is held, but not enough people participate to meet quorum, the meeting cannot be conducted. The quorum for members’ meetings is a majority of the members, unless the articles or bylaws set a higher quorum.

If a meeting of members is adjourned for less than 30 days, announcement at the earliest meeting that is adjourned is considered sufficient notice, unless the bylaws otherwise provide. If a meeting of members is adjourned by one or more adjournments for an aggregate of 30 days or more, new notice of the meeting must be given. The bylaws may also have specific rules about when the meeting may be rescheduled, what is the quorum at the rescheduled meeting, or how to give notice of the rescheduled meeting.

Written Resolutions Instead of a Meeting

We discussed earlier how members can conduct the AGM by written resolution instead of holding a meeting. Members can also conduct any other business by written resolution. A resolution can be passed in writing if the resolution is signed by all members entitled to vote on that resolution.

Directors’ resolutions can also be passed in writing instead of holding a meeting. In order to pass the resolution, all of the directors must consent, unless the bylaws set a lower threshold.

Corporate Registry Update

The Director of Corporations and Registrar of Co-operatives has suspended the strike off provisions for non-profit corporations, co-operative and new generation co-operative entities.

The suspension is meant to assist non-profit corporations, co-operatives, and new generation co-operatives that are not in a position to file annual returns and financial statements at the Corporate Registry due to delays in annual meetings caused by the restrictions and recommendations on public gatherings.

To further lessen the impact of being unable to file in a timely manner, annual return late filing fees for not-for-profit entities, including non-profit corporations and co-operatives, will be suspended.

The Corporate Registry continues operations, including the acceptance and processing of all customer submissions. Organizations that have completed the necessary activities and are able to submit their annual returns and related filings are encouraged to do so. Clients are directed to the Government of Saskatchewan Public Registry website for additional information.

 

Contributors:

  • Alberta – Allison Barkwell and Anna Kosa
  • British Columbia – Mary Childs and Sarah G. Fitzpatrick
  • Ontario – David Tang and Katrina Kairys
  • Québec – Troy McEachren
  • Saskatchewan – Jordyn Allan

Miller Thomson is closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation to ensure that we provide our clients with appropriate support in this rapidly changing environment. For articles, information updates and firm developments, please visit our COVID-19 Resources page.

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