On October 26, 2023, the British Columbia Money Judgment Enforcement Act received Royal Assent. The Act, which comes into force in 2025, aims to streamline the debt collection process in the province by reducing the role of Courts and instead creating a Money Judgment Registry staffed with Civil Enforcement Officers charged with debt collection.
The full Act contains several substantive changes from the former Court Order Enforcement Act, but the three largest categories are:
- Creation of a Money Judgment Registry
- Universalize Enforcement Proceedings
- Change to Limitation Period and Protections for Debtors
The creation of a Money Judgment Registry is a fundamental, structural change to how debt collection proceeds in British Columbia. Rather than proceeding through the courts to make a debt enforceable, creditors now may register any order of a court or tribunal directly with the new Registry. This brings British Columbia’s system in line with similar structures emerging across Canada, including Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland, and Labrador.
The Registry will be staffed with Civil Enforcement officers who are given broad powers under the Act to carry out enforcement of money judgments. The current system is fragmented, with separate court orders required for different enforcement mechanisms such as garnishment or a writ of seizure, and the use of independent collections agents. Now, creditors must register with the centralized Registry to seek the help of a designated Enforcement Officer, who is empowered to comprehensively enforce the collection with a full suite of mechanisms available to them, including the seizure of property and income subject to prescribed exemptions.
While the above changes will make the system simpler and less costly to navigate for creditors, debtors are also expected to be given additional protections in the new regime.
The limitation period for enforcement of a debt has been shortened from 10 years to 2 years, and penalties for unlawful actions against debtors have increased. Additionally, there will be enhanced protections for debtors in terms of exempted property from seizure, though more information on this will be provided as regulations are developed over the coming year.
CHANGES FOR EMPLOYERS
Employers should pay special attention to Section 101 of the Act. In the existing regime, employers must not dismiss, demote or terminate an employee in relation to a garnishing order served to that employee, or else face a fine of up to $500.
The prohibition against employer reprisals against debtor employees has broadened in scope, and the penalties have increased.
The updated provision now states that an employer must not dismiss, suspend, demote, discipline, harass, or otherwise disadvantage an employee, nor deny them any benefit or terminate their employment, solely because the employer has received a notice of seizure regarding the employee’s income regarding a debt collection. If an individual employer contravenes that provision, they face a fine of up to $1500 and imprisonment of up to 3 months. If a corporation contravenes the provision, it faces a fine of up to $10,000. Additionally, the employer must reinstate a terminated employee as soon as practicable with back pay and related benefits.
The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Jakob Sanderson, an Articling Student in the firm’s Vancouver office.