You have made a financial commitment to an important event but now have to cancel it because of the pandemic. Here is what you should know.
I have to cancel a wedding or a reception because of the pandemic. What are my rights?
The current circumstances may be associated with a case of force majeure, meaning an unpredictable situation the consequences of which are unavoidable. The Civil Code of Québec provides that in cases of force majeure (superior force, or fortuitous event), unless a clause in the contract provides otherwise and it is valid, the obligations of both parties are extinguished, and any amounts paid must be reimbursed.
The pandemic situation raises many new questions from a legal standpoint. For example, if a reception is planned for next October, can a force majeure be invoked now to cancel the contract and claim a reimbursement of any amounts paid as a deposit, without knowing what the sanitary constraints will be several months down the road? It is very difficult to answer such a question with certainty… The best solution is to reach an agreement with the merchant. Knowing your rights, however, is the best preparation for such negotiations.
Room/hall rentals: the Civil Code of Québec
Renting an immovable (reception room, banquet hall, site, cottage, etc.) is one of the domains where several provisions of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) do not apply.
Therefore, if you reserved a room or hall and the contract only covers the room or hall, you are not entirely protected by the CPA. The contract is, however, subject to the rules provided for by the Civil Code of Québec, including those pertaining to force majeure (superior force, or fortuitous event), which may be invoked if sanitary measures still prevent the reception from being held on the date of the event.
If you cancel a contract that only covers a room, hall or site long ahead of time, a force majeure can probably not be invoked. You must then abide by the terms of the contract, which could stipulate, for example, that the renter may keep the deposit in the event of a cancellation.
Other services: the Consumer Protection Act
If, on the other hand, the contract covers the rental of the room/hall and other elements, such as food and beverage services, renting a festival tent, etc., you may then invoke the provisions of the CPA.
This Act prohibits any stipulation that sets in advance the amount or percentage a consumer must pay if he or she fails to abide by a contract. Merchants may claim compensation from you if you cancel a contract, but they may not arbitrarily decide how much you have to pay. A merchant’s claim must represent the actual damages caused by the failure to abide by the contract. If you refuse to pay, the merchant will have to turn to the courts. Among other things, the merchant will have to submit proof of the damages incurred.
In addition, stating or writing that the amount paid as a deposit will be kept as compensation is the same as setting the amount of the penalty in advance. Even though merchants may claim damages, they cannot unilaterally decide to keep a customer’s deposit. Under the circumstances, it may be more advantageous for both parties to negotiate the amount of compensation in consideration of the actual damages sustained by the merchant; otherwise, you may send a formal demand to the merchant asking to be reimbursed or you will turn to the courts.
Furthermore, if the contract stipulates that the merchant’s principal obligation is to be performed more than 2 months after it is entered into, which is often the case for weddings, the merchant is required to transfer the deposit you have paid in a trust account, in order for this amount to be protected in the event of a bankruptcy or closure. Failure to do so on the part of the merchant is an offence under the CPA.
Last update : May 6, 2021
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