Spiro Law 

 


Peter S. Spiro is a Toronto lawyer and policy consultant. He is licensed as a lawyer by the Law Society of Ontario, and also has many years of experience in finance and economic analysis and policy.

My work focusses on providing research and advisory support to law firms, in the areas of class actions, expropriation, corporation law, and civil litigation issues. I do not usually provide services to private clients, but I can be retained for limited purposes such as providing independent legal advice and legal opinions and the interpretation and review of contracts, through CEO Law:   https://www.ceolawcanada.com/lawyers/peter-spiro/

 

 



Insightful Legal Advice

My legal practice focusses on class actions, but I also provide advisory services related to other civil litigation issues.

I am available to provide an objective assessment of your legal case, or a second opinion. I can suggest possible alternative litigation strategies, and the advisability of settlement as compared to the risks of litigation.

 

My Areas of Practice

I have experience in civil litigation, class actions, property law, tax law, estates and trusts law, corporate shareholder agreements, and family law as it relates to spousal support and equalization of property. 

 

 

Research Support

My legal research acumen is above average.  I provide legal research and legal document writing services to law firms. I assist Monkhouse Law as Counsel with respect to legal strategy on employment class actions.

I have a law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School. At Osgoode, I won academic prizes as the top graduate in estate law, estate planning, and debtor-creditor law. I also have degrees in economics from the University of Toronto and University of Chicago. Prior to becoming a lawyer, I worked in finance, economics, and taxation.  

 

Selected Publications

These examples of my publications will give you an idea of the range of my expertise:

 

1.  Estate and Trust Law

Could the Charter be used to prohibit discrimination in a will?” There is a long standing tradition of testamentary freedom in common law jurisdictions. However, British Columbia has passed legislation that allows a court to vary a will that provides an inequitable division of assets among the children of the deceased. In Ontario, the Court of Appeal upheld a will that cut out one daughter based on what appears to have been a racist motive. It's possible that such a will could be challenged as a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Supreme Court of Canada Approves the Henson Trust Principle.” Social assistance programs don’t allow a disabled person to receive benefits if she has financial assets.  That would make it futile for parents to leave a bequest to a disabled child.  A generous lower court decision in 1989 allowed a work-around, known as a Henson Trust.  In 2019, the issue reached the Supreme Court, which gave its seal of approval.

"The Common Law Treatment of Lost Wills," Estates, Trusts and Pensions Journal, 2016. Dying without a will, referred to as dying intestate, creates serious problems for your loved ones left behind. If the original will cannot be found, the results may be disastrous. This issue is particularly important if you are in a common law relationship. Ontario's Succession Law Reform Act for intestate succession will provide nothing to the common law spouse you leave behind. Your property might go instead to distant relatives.

 

2.  Family Law and Equalization of Property After Divorce or Separation

Splitting the family home when common law spouses separate.”  Common law spouses are not subject to the Family Law Act provisions that require married couples to share family property equally.  However, they often buy a home jointly, but with unequal financial contributions.  That can create complications if they separate.

Enforcing a Marriage Contract for a Middle Class, Middle Aged Couple.” These contracts can override the property sharing and spousal support rules in family law statutes.  They are not only for the rich.  They can make sense for individuals  with children from prior marriages, and assets they want to preserve for them.  To be enforceable, the contract must have been fairly negotiated with full disclosure of financial information.  Each side must receive independent legal advice to fully understand the implications of the contract.

A spouse not on title may share the increase in value of the family home through a resulting trust." The Court of Appeal re-affirmed the long-standing principle that a spouse can own a beneficial interest in a property, in spite of not being a legal owner. One of the spouses was a self-represented litigant. The judge has a duty to assist, and help her understand court procedures, but not to bend the rules in her favour.

"Judgment Creditors, Resulting Trusts and the Matrimonial Home." Canadian Family Law Quarterly, 2016. A time-honoured strategy for a business person is to put the family home in the name of the other spouse, in case the worst happens and the business goes bankrupt. Unfortunately, that does not always succeed in protecting the house. It can also backfire if the marital relationship breaks down.

“Property Division for Common Law Spouses by Stealth?” The Family Law Act does not provide for an equalization of property for common law spouses, but it does allow dependent support.  Sometimes, the determination of the amount can resemble an equalization of property.

A Very Long Limitation Period for Unjust Enrichment Claims.” In real property ownership disputes, the time period for bringing claims allowed by the Real Property Limitations Act is 10 years.  A common law spouse who contributed work to helping renovate a home owned by her ex-spouse claimed a constructive trust interest to prevent his unjust enrichment.  In McConnell v Huxtable, the Court of Appeal ruled that the 10-year limitation period applied to her claim.

The Law on Relocation of Children after Divorce.” Quite often, after a divorce the parent who has custody of the children wants to move to a different city, or even a different country. That imposes a hardship on the other parent, and creates difficult issues if a dispute comes to court. The operating principle is the "best interests of the child," but that is quite hard to define in this situation. In the leading Supreme Court decision on this issue, a mother who wanted to learn orthodontics in Australia was allowed to take her child away from the father in Saskatoon.

 

3.   Real Estate Disputes

Fraudulent Conveyance and the Real Property Limitations Act.” A person in debt who puts the family home in his spouse’s name may not escape the demands of his creditors.

Can interest rate penalties hidden in the fine print be enforced in failed real estate deals?”  A principle of contract law is that unusually onerous terms are not enforceable unless they are brought to the attention of the buyer.  This can apply to house purchase agreements as well.

Suing a Condo Corporation for Repairs is a Risky Business”  Individual owners are entitled to sue, but they have to provide evidence that the corporation has failed to meet the appropriate standard.  A condominium corporation “does not have a duty to address every problem reported by a unit owner.” 

Restrictive Covenants are not Forever in Ontario,” 2019.  If you sell a piece of land but still own neighbouring property, you might want to put a restriction on what use the new owner can make of the land (e.g., limit the size of buildings, or the type of business).  These restrictive covenants need to be carefully written to prevent a premature expiry.

Compensating the Buyer in a Case of Real Estate Agent Negligence,” 2018. This family bought a house with serious water damage due to negligent misrepresentation. The rule of compensation is that the victim should receive monetary compensation to restore him to his original position before the misrepresentation. In this case, that led to a damages award of $450,000 even though the original purchase price was only $180,000.

"Deposits and Damages in Aborted Real Estate Deals", 2019. A buyer who fails to complete a real estate transaction nearly always loses his deposit, even if the seller can quickly re-sell the property at a higher price. Conversely, if the market has fallen, the buyer is liable to pay damages for the seller's loss.

"Canadian Mortgage Law and Prepayment Penalties", Western Journal of Legal Studies, 2015. Borrowers who need to prepay their mortgages often pay substantial penalties. This paper suggests that the law is unclear and provides little protection for consumers facing powerful financial institutions. 

 

4.  Class Actions: Employment Law and Consumer Protection

Ignorance of the law and limitations periods for class actions.” In the long running overtime class action of Fresco v CIBC, the Court of Appeal found that misrepresentation by the employer about the employees’ legal rights excused their failure to bring a claim within the limitations time period.

No Privilege for an Employer's Survey in a Class Action for Unpaid Overtime.”  Solicitor-client privilege provides confidentiality for the  documents that contain the legal advice given by lawyers.   It allows the client to get unfettered access to  legal advice without a fear that the act of seeking advice could backfire. However, some lawyers are trigger-happy and label many documents as privileged when they do not really qualify.

Sick and Dying Smokers in Quebec Class-Action Lawsuit May Not See a Dime,” 2019.  This is the first Canadian case that has come to trial for health damages caused by cigarettes.  Consumers injured by smoking were awarded $15 billion.  The multinational tobacco companies have taken most of their profits abroad, and the Canadian subsidiaries are insolvent.  Winning a lawsuit is often easier than collecting the money.

"Class Actions in Employment Related Disputes," Canadian Class Action Review, 2015. Class action lawsuits can fill part of the gap left by the union movement in an era when that protection for workers has declined in the private sector. Notable successes have been achieved for bank employees who were denied payment for overtime work. 

"Informal Employment Contracts and the Battle over Retirement Benefits," Canadian Labour and Employment Law Journal, 2015.  Weak economic growth and the resultant financial pressures have made post-retirement benefits a tempting target for cutbacks, in both the private and public sectors.

“Class Action Injustice,” Policy Options, July 2015. Letting shareholders harmed by misrepresentations sue as a class seems like a good idea, but the devil is in the details. The settlements often have an adverse effect on innocent long-term shareholders, while the executives who were responsible for the misrepresentation avoid paying a penalty.

Ontario Students Succeed in Suing their College for Negligent Misrepresentation,” 2013.  Colleges and universities should take note and exercise  due care in what they print in their course descriptions.    The Consumer Protection Act allows students to sue for damages if the description misrepresents the qualification the course will give them.

 

5.   Other Legal Issues

"Problems of Interpreting Statutes of Limitations in Cases of Continuing Breach of Contract," Canadian Business Law Journal, December 2013. Most authorities hold that a cause of action for breach of contract crystallizes as soon as the breach has occurred. Logically, for statutes of limitations, the time will start to run from that point. Sometimes, courts will make exceptions when the breach relates to an event that extends through a longer time period.

"Clarifying the Rules for Piercing of the Corporate Veil" The principle of corporate limited liability emerged in the early 19th century in the United States. It was a major legal and economic innovation that facilitated the growth of large scale enterprise, without which the modern economy would not be possible. Limited liability always protects the passive shareholders of large companies.  However, shareholders who are active in the management of a company are treated differently, and risk being held personally liable for unlawful acts of the company.

I regularly write comments on interesting legal cases for CanLII Connects.

 

6.             Public Policy and Taxation

"Rethinking Municipal Finance for the New Economy," Mowat Centre, 2019 (co-author).  The decline in bricks and mortar business will have a hard impact on municipal governments dependent on property taxes.  Alternative sources of revenue, such as user fees and other taxes, may need to be considered.

Tax Exemptions for Investment Income: Boon or Bane?” Mowat Centre, 2017.  Canada’s complex system of tax expenditures and credits is inefficient.  It creates unfair preferences for some taxpayers at the expense of others.  Limiting special credits would allow a more efficient system with lower tax rates.

Regulatory Charge or User Fee?” HST and GST (Goods and Services Tax) is a frequent source of tax appeals.  Some types of services are exempt, which means that the buyer does not pay tax, but the producer doesn’t get input tax credits for the HST on the goods and services it bought to produce its service.  The outcome often hinges on fine shades of opinion on the category the service falls into.

"The Social Discount Rate for Provincial Government Projects,” in D. Burgess and G. Jenkins, eds., Discount Rates for the Evaluation of Public Private Partnerships (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010).    Dollar amounts to be spent or received in the future often need to be converted into a present value (e.g., to calculate a lump sum payment to compensate for all future damages).  This paper proposes a method to derive a discount rate to do that.

"Tax Policy and the Underground Economy," in Size, Causes and Consequences of the Underground Economy (Ashgate Publishing, 2005). Not all taxpayers are honest, and some types of taxes are more likely to be evaded than others.  In addition to evasion, taxes may also reduce productivity by encouraging do-it-yourself work as opposed to buying services from specialists.

 Evidence of a Post-GST Increase in the Underground Economy.”  Canadian Tax Journal, 1993.  Canada’s switch to the GST in 1991 led to a noticeable increase in the cash economy.  The GST brought in a new tax on many types of services provided by small sellers.  It was an unpopular tax, and the resentment compounded the willingness of customers to evade the tax.  The problem persists to this day.