Peter S. Spiro is a Toronto lawyer and consultant. He practices law through Spiro Law Professional Corporation, and is also a Fellow of the Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Public Policy. He is licensed as a lawyer by the Law Society of Ontario.
How I Can Help You
My legal practice is devoted primarily to advisory services. I'm a member of the Bloomsbury Law Chambers at 31 Elm Street, Toronto M5G 1H1 (near Bay and Dundas).
My clients range from large institutions to small businesses and individuals.
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.
I am available to go to court for you on applications and motions. My hourly fees are moderate compared to larger firms with high overheads.
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 equalization of property.
I advise municipal and provincial governments on whether the implementation of a new tax or user fee is within their constitutional or legislative power.
I advise potential investors by reviewing the litigation exposure of corporations to major class actions.
Assistance to Estate Trustees (Executors)
Administering an estate can be a complex responsibility. I will advise you on issues in interpreting the will that you are administering, and on how to properly distribute or sell property. A clear understanding of the will and its nuances will help to avoid costly disputes among the beneficiaries.
Help for Self-Represented Litigants
It may suit you to be a self-represented litigant. That can work if you are articulate and well organized. You know your own case better than anybody else. In Ontario, it’s considered the duty of a judge to assist a self-represented litigant navigate the rules of procedure.
I offer unbundled legal services, also known as a limited retainer. I can help you with professional assistance in researching the law and preparing court documents such as a statement of defence or a factum.
I can assist with general business litigation, such as disputes over contracts, shareholder disputes, real estate disputes, estate disputes, or family law issues related to equalization of property.
One vital point to remember: Suppose you have been sued and have been served with a statement of claim. You must not ignore it, even if you believe the claim is frivolous. You must respond with a statement of defence within the prescribed time limits. If you do not, you lose your case by default. A judge may impose a large damage award against you in your absence.
My legal research acumen is above average. I have a law degree from Osgoode Hall, one of Canada's leading law schools. 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.
These examples of my publications will give you an idea of the range of my expertise:
1. Estate and Trust Law
“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
"A spouse not on title may share the increase in value of the family home through a resulting trust," 2019. 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 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.
3. Real Estate Disputes
"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 the original purchase price was only $180,000.
"Deposits and Damages in Aborted Real Estate Deals," 2017. 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 and Consumer Protection
“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.