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Canada: Punctuation November 13, 2006

Posted by Jasper in Uncategorized.
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It is some time ago (July 2006), but this has to be one of the more peculiar determinations there have been in a while. A dispute between two Canadian telecom companies (Bell Aliant and Rogers Communications) has been decided by the use of a single comma in a 14-page contract. Rogers believed it had a 5-year contract allowing it access to power poles for a certain annual fee, until Bell Aliant cancelled the deal and announced new access rates. Aliant submitted that:

…based on grammatical rules of punctuation, since the comma in section 8.1 closed the clause “and thereafter for successive five (5) year terms”, the subsequent qualifier “unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party” qualified all of the preceding section.

The Commision agreed:

The Commission is of the view that the wording in section 8.1 of the SSA [Support Structure Agreement] is clear and unambiguous. The Commission notes that based on the rules of punctuation, the comma placed before the phrase “unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party” means that that phrase qualifies both the phrases “[the SSA] shall be effective from the date it is made and shall continue in force for a period of five (5) years from the date it is made” and the phrase “and thereafter for successive five (5) year terms”.

The Commission further notes that the phrase “unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party” does not specify any triggering event from which to give notice. The Commission agrees with Aliant Telecom that had the intention been to limit the right to terminate to the end of the current and any renewal term of the SSA, clear wording would have been included specifying by what date the notice was required. The Commission considers, therefore, that notice of termination under section 8.1 of the SSA is not limited to any specific period in time. In light of the above, the Commission is of the view that the plain and ordinary meaning of section 8.1 of the SSA allows for the termination of the SSA at any time, without cause, upon one year’s written notice.

In other words the placement of the comma allowed for the termination of the contract at any time, without cause, upon one-year’s written notice. Access the CRTC Decision here. Just goes to show the art of correct grammar is still very valuable.

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