If you’ve lost money and you think it’s because your investment advisor or firm acted improperly, you have options: from using an ombudsman to going to arbitration or court.
Each option varies based on things like cost, procedures, the amount of time each may take and whether decisions are binding.
The information and links below will help you decide which option works best for you.
Regardless of the option, in all cases the first step should be a written complaint to your investment advisor and their firm. Under IIROC rules, they must provide a response to you within 90 days.
If you aren’t satisfied with their response, one of these options might be your next step:
|Options at a Glance|
Time Limit** to Complain
*The limit applies only to compensation for losses related to financial fraud covered by the Fonds d’indemnisation des services financiers (Financial services compensation fund). There is otherwise no monetary limit on complaints investors may file with the AMF.
Free Legal Advice
The Investor Protection Clinics at Osgoode Hall Law School and University of Toronto Faculty of Law provide free legal advice to investors across Canada who cannot afford a lawyer.
Canadian Investor Protection Fund (CIPF)
The Canadian Investor Protection Fund (CIPF) provides protection to investors in the event a firm becomes insolvent or ceases operations due to bankruptcy. CIPF is funded by IIROC-regulated firms and their membership is mandatory.
Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI)
If you’ve lost money and you think it’s because your investment advisor or firm acted improperly, you can submit a complaint to the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI).
- Free, independent and informal
- OBSI is a free, independent and informal service for resolving investment and banking disputes. All IIROC-regulated firms are required take part in the OBSI process.
- 180 days to complain
- First, you need to formally complain to your investment firm. If you don’t receive their response within 90 days of your complaint or the firm sends you their written response but you are not satisfied with their decision, you can take your complaint to OBSI right away or within 180 days. You don’t have to first complain to your firm’s internal ombudsman, which is different from OBSI. A complaint to an internal ombudsman may leave you with less than 180 days to complain to OBSI. Your time limit for taking your complaint to court (the “limitation period”) will also continue to run while the internal ombudsman investigates your complaint. When you complain to OBSI, the limitation period for suing the firm in court is typically suspended while OBSI reviews your complaint.
- Decisions are not binding
- OBSI can recommend compensation of up to $350,000. But unlike with arbitration or the courts, OBSI’s decisions aren't binding. This means that a firm may decide not to pay you the compensation OBSI recommended. In this case, OBSI will “name and shame” the firm by publishing their investigation report naming the firm and describing what happened. You will never be identified.
- More information
- Learn more about OBSI and how to submit a complaint.
- Download the OBSI’s Guide for Investors.
- You can contact OBSI at:
- Toll-free: 1 888 451-4519
- Greater Toronto Area: 416 287-2877
- TTY Telephone: 1 855 TTY-OBSI (1 855 889-6274)
- Email: [email protected]
- You can contact OBSI at:
Arbitration is like going to court, however, it is less formal, usually less expensive and takes less time. Arbitration decisions are final and binding on the parties.
- How it works
- The choice on whether to use arbitration is yours. IIROC investment firms are required to participate if you, as a client, choose to use this program.
- Under arbitration, you and your investment firm choose from the list of arbitrators in the program which arbitrator is best to hear your case.
- The arbitrator acts as a judge and is completely independent. The arbitrator listens to what both sides have to say, considers the evidence and testimony presented and then makes a legally binding decision.
- In some cases, an arbitrator may even help both sides come to an agreement between themselves before a decision is reached – this is called mediation.
- Ultimately, arbitrators in the program can award up to $500,000. Additionally, under IIROC rules, all registered firms must comply with arbitration decisions.
- Who conducts the arbitration?
- IIROC has designated two independent organizations to conduct the arbitrations and supply the independent arbitrators:
- In the case of arbitration, you have the option of being represented by a lawyer or another qualified person. You can also represent yourself. However, firms are usually represented by a lawyer, so it’s important to understand the process before deciding how you want to be represented.
- If you cannot afford a lawyer, you may contact the Investor Protection Clinics at Osgoode Hall Law School or University of Toronto Faculty of Law, which provide free legal advice to investors across Canada.
- In addition to legal costs, the organizations administering the arbitration charge arbitration fees. Arbitration fees typically include a filing fee, an arbitrator’s hourly fee and travel costs, a hearing room fee, videoconferencing and other administrative fees. These fees are usually divided equally between both parties. You can also decide ahead of time if you want the arbitrator to award costs – in which case, the losing side pays the other side’s legal costs.
- More information
- To learn more about the arbitration process, feel free to contact one of the organizations:
- See further questions about arbitration
Autorité des marchés financiers (AMF)
If you are a Quebec resident who lost money and think it’s because your investment advisor or firm acted improperly, you have the option of using the free mediation and conciliation services of the Autorité des marchés financiers (AMF).
- How it works
- Like with the Ombudsman for Banking Services (OBSI), with the AMF you must first complain to your IIROC-regulated investment firm. If you are not satisfied with your firm's response, you can ask the firm to transfer the complaint to the AMF.
- The AMF will assess your complaint and, in some cases, may offer mediation or conciliation services. It is a voluntary process. You do not need a lawyer for the AMF’s services. Filing a complaint with the AMF does not stop the running of your limitation period to start a legal action in court.
- Unlike, for example, arbitration, in the case of mediation or conciliation through the AMF, firms are not required to participate. However, firms generally agree to take part.
- More information
- View the AMF website or contact the AMF at 1-877-525-0337 or [email protected] for more information.
Legal Action: Going to Court
All investors who believe they lost money because their investment advisor or firm acted improperly have the option of taking legal action.
- Time limits
- You are not required to try to resolve your dispute with a firm before taking legal action. You should be aware of limitation periods to commence a legal action. This means there are legal time limits and you could run out of time to pursue some of your claims in court. Limitation periods may vary depending on the jurisdiction, types of legal issues and other factors. You may need to consult a lawyer to determine the limitation period applicable in your case.
- Legal assistance
- If you choose legal action, your provincial law society can help you find a lawyer. For a list of provincial law societies, go to www.flsc.ca.
- You may also contact the Osgoode Hall Law School and University of Toronto Faculty of Law Investor Protection Clinics which provide free legal advice to investors across Canada who cannot afford a lawyer.
- Legal Costs
- Unlike options such as arbitration or the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI), there is no limit in the amount of compensation you can claim when taking legal action. There may however be significant legal costs, and litigation can take considerable time.
- In addition to your own costs, the courts may decide to make the losing side responsible for paying the winning side’s costs, which can be substantial.