Posted: July 23, 2021
By Kyle Kawanami, Partner and Tracy Zimmer, Associate

In Alberta we have legislation called the Reciprocal Enforcement of Judgments Act (the “Act”) which gives our courts the ability to enforce judgments in Alberta that were obtained outside of the province if there is an agreement between the two jurisdictions. Below is a brief outline of the Act and its application.

What does reciprocal enforcement mean?

The Act enables a person who has obtained a civil judgment in a foreign jurisdiction (the “judgment creditor”) to make an application to the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta requesting an order to have the judgment enforced (collected) in Alberta, providing that the originating jurisdiction is a reciprocating jurisdiction. A foreign jurisdiction is any jurisdiction outside of Alberta. A reciprocating jurisdiction is any jurisdiction that has entered into an agreement with Alberta to streamline the registration of each other’s judgments. This process may allow the judgment creditor to bypass the need to have to sue again in Alberta to obtain and enforce a judgment already received in another reciprocating jurisdiction.

For example, you may have sued someone in Saskatchewan and the Court there granted a judgment against the individual you sued for $60,000.00. However, that person (the judgment debtor) has now moved to Alberta and no longer has assets in Saskatchewan for you to enforce the judgment against to collect the outstanding amount owing. You can make an application to the Court in Alberta to have the judgment registered here. If the order is granted, you can then take enforcement steps in Alberta to collect against the judgment debtor.

You could also to choose to bring a new claim in Alberta and sue the judgment debtor again for the $60,000.00 (or whatever is remaining to be paid) to get an Alberta judgment, but this would entail the judgment creditor redoing the entire litigation process. The reciprocal enforcement process allows the judgment creditor to save time and money from having to relitigate the issue in court. 

Absent registration of a foreign judgment or obtaining a new judgment in Alberta, your Saskatchewan judgment cannot be enforced against the judgment debtor’s assets that are in Alberta. Once registered, you can take enforcement steps which may include such processes as:

1. garnishment of the judgment debtor's wages,

  • Garnishment is the process whereby money that would be owed to the judgment debtor is diverted to the creditor. For example, the creditor may be able to have the debtor’s wages garnished.

2. seizure of certain assets located in Alberta, or

  • Seizure is the process whereby a Civil Enforcement Agency is instructed to seize the property of the debtor, sell the property and give the proceeds to the creditor.

3. examination of the debtor.

  • An examination hearing is held between the debtor and creditor, whereby the creditor may ask questions to obtain necessary information regarding the debtor’s finances such as how the debtor earns money, how much money the debtor has and where it is, and what property the debtor owns.

Once registered, the judgment in Alberta is valid for 10 years from the date of the Order and may be renewed for an additional 10 years upon application.

To utilize this process, there are some key conditions that must be met:

  • There must be a reciprocating agreement between Alberta and the foreign jurisdiction that the judgment was granted in. For example, Alberta and Arizona have entered into agreement to be reciprocating jurisdictions, therefore you can bring a court application to have the Arizona judgment registered here. However, Alberta and California do not have such an agreement, therefore, you would have to sue the party in Alberta again to get a judgment here to enforce and collect against the judgment debtor.
  • The judgment must be from a civil proceeding whereby a sum of money is made payable. Therefore, family maintenance judgments will need to be registered and enforced in a different manner.
  • There is a time limitation. The application must be made in Alberta within 6 years after the date the judgment was granted in the foreign jurisdiction.

What is the likelihood that the Alberta Courts will grant the Order?

The courts in Canada generally exercise comity. This is the concept whereby the courts will generally recognize the orders and judgments of courts in other jurisdictions as long as the court who granted the judgment properly exercised their jurisdiction to do so.

However, even if the foreign jurisdiction met the key conditions outlined above and properly exercised jurisdiction, the Alberta Court may exercise their discretion to not grant an order to register the judgment. This may happen for several reasons including:

  • if the judgment was granted for something not recognized in Canada. For example, if the judgment was made against a person for a law that violates their human rights, the Court may not enforce it;
  • if the judgment should be denied for public policy reasons;
  • if the judgment was obtained by fraud;
  • if the judgment debtor would have a good defence if an action was brought on the original judgment; or
  • if an appeal is pending or time for an appeal has not expired.

The above is not an exhaustive list. Ultimately, the Court has discretion to make the decision that they deem is the most fair in the situation.

What jurisdictions does Alberta have a reciprocating agreement with?

At the time of writing this article, Alberta has reciprocating agreements with:

  • All other provinces and territories across Canada with the exception of Quebec;
  • The Commonwealth of Australia;
  • The States of Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Arizona.

What is the process for bringing a reciprocal enforcement application?

Although the process has become relatively streamlined, the steps taken may vary depending on the circumstances that the original judgment was obtained. Furthermore, specific documents are required to be submitted with the court application requesting registration of the foreign judgment. It is highly recommended that you contact a lawyer to assist you with this process.

Option 1: An application can be made ex-parte (meaning without prior notice to the judgment debtor) if the judgment debtor:

  • had been personally served in the original action, OR
  • appeared, defended, attorned or submitted to the jurisdiction of the original court; AND
  • the time to appeal the judgment has expired and no appeal is pending. (This is based on the limitation periods set by the originating court).

An ex-parte application must be accompanied by a certificate issued under seal and signed by the originating court. The certificate must be in the prescribed form as specified in Alberta’s Reciprocating Jurisdictions Regulation and it must set out the particulars of the matter and confirm that the time to appeal has expired and that there is no appeal pending.

Once the order is granted, certain notice requirements must be met within prescribed timeframes.

Option 2: If an application cannot be brought ex-parte (as outlined above), then the judgment debtor must be provided notice of the application in the prescribed manner.

How can we assist you?

The above discussion provides an overview of the process for registering reciprocal judgments in Alberta. It is meant to not only inform you of the process, but to make you aware that such an option may exist to support you with judgment enforcement. The lawyers at Emery Jamieson LLP have extensive experience in dealing with foreign judgments and can assist you in getting your foreign judgment registered and enforced in Alberta or can assist in connecting you with our wide network of lawyers for registration and enforcements of Alberta judgments in other jurisdictions. If you have any questions about the Reciprocal Enforcement of Judgments Act or would to discuss other options for enforcement of civil judgments, please feel free to contact our office.

Emery Jamieson LLP