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Share Transfer

Share Transfer of a Private Corporation in Ontario

Business Law

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Transferring shares in an Ontario-based private corporation is governed by statutory regulations, articles of incorporation, and shareholders’ agreements. This article outlines the key aspects of share transfer, including the legal framework, procedural steps, and strategic considerations.

What is Share Transfer?

What is Share Transfer

In corporate law, share transfer refers to transferring the ownership of shares in a corporation from one party (the seller) to another (the buyer). This process is subject to the governing laws of the jurisdiction, the corporation’s articles of incorporation, and any shareholder agreements. The transfer of shares allows for the movement of capital and ownership within the private sector. It enables investors to sell their holdings, facilitates strategic acquisitions, and allows new investors to participate in the growth of a corporation. However, due to the potential impact on corporate control and governance, share transfers are often regulated to protect shareholder interests, maintain corporate stability, and ensure transparency in the transfer process.

The procedure for transferring shares can vary significantly depending on the size and type of corporation and the jurisdiction in which it operates. The process generally involves several key steps, including the agreement to transfer shares, meticulous compliance with legal and regulatory requirements, updating corporate records to reflect the new ownership, and the physical or electronic transfer of share certificates, if applicable.

Private corporations often have more restrictive mechanisms to control the transfer of shares, such as pre-emptive rights, right of first refusal, or drag-along and tag-along rights stipulated in the shareholders’ agreement. These mechanisms are designed to protect the interests of existing shareholders and the corporation itself, ensuring that new shareholders are aligned with the corporation’s objectives and existing shareholder agreements.

What is a Share Certificate?

A share certificate is a document issued by a corporation that confirms a specific shareholder’s ownership of shares in that corporation. It is official evidence of an individual’s or entity’s stake in a company. In the past, share certificates were printed documents containing important information such as the company’s name, the shareholder’s name, the number of shares owned, and an identification number. These documents were designed with protective elements such as watermarks, seals, or signatures to prevent forgery and unauthorized duplication.

With the rise of electronic record-keeping and trading, physical share certificates have become less common. Instead, many corporations and regulatory systems have embraced the convenience of dematerialized or electronic shares. In such systems, shares are held electronically, and transactions are recorded in a company’s register of members or through a centralized securities depository system. This eliminates the need for physical certificates, making the process more efficient. However, the legal function of the share certificate remains unchanged. It serves as a key document that provides evidence of the holder’s ownership of shares in the company, the rights associated with those shares (such as voting rights and dividends), and any restrictions on their transfer.

Whether physical or electronic, share certificates are critical for administering a company’s share structure and enforcing shareholder rights.

Are There Restrictions on Share Transfers?

Yes, restrictions on share transfers are common, especially in private corporations where maintaining a certain ownership structure is important to the company’s governance and operational strategy. These restrictions are legal mechanisms designed to protect the interests of the corporation and its shareholders by controlling how and to whom shares can be transferred. They are usually outlined in the corporation’s articles of incorporation, by-laws, and shareholder agreements. The purpose of imposing such restrictions is multifaceted; it aims to prevent unwanted third parties from acquiring a stake in the company, ensure that new shareholders align with the corporation’s values and objectives, and protect the existing shareholders’ rights and investments.

Restrictions can take various forms, including pre-emptive rights, rights of first refusal, and clauses requiring board or shareholder approval for transfers. Each manages the company’s ownership in a way consistent with its overarching goals. The implications of these restrictions are significant for shareholders and potential investors. They must navigate these legal stipulations when buying or selling shares, which can impact the liquidity and transferability of shares.

For instance, a right of first refusal can delay or deter the sale of shares to outside parties, as the shares must first be offered to existing shareholders or the corporation itself. Similarly, approval requirements ensure that transfers are subject to scrutiny, aligning with the company’s strategic interests. While these restrictions can limit the freedom to transfer shares freely, they are essential for preserving the stability and integrity of the company’s ownership structure.

Business Corporations Act (Ontario) & Canada Business Corporations Act

The primary statutory framework governing the transfer of shares in Ontario is the Business Corporations Act (OBCA) and the Canada Business Corporations Act. The regulation sets out the basic rules for share transfers, including the requirement that shares be fully paid before they are transferred and the need for the corporation to maintain a central securities register. It also provides shareholders with certain preemptive rights, giving existing shareholders the right to purchase shares before offering them to external parties.

Articles of Incorporation and Shareholders’ Agreement

The specific rights, restrictions, and procedures for transferring shares are often detailed in a corporation’s articles of incorporation and any applicable shareholders’ agreement. These documents may impose additional requirements beyond those found in the OBCA, such as approval by a certain percentage of shareholders or the board of directors, right of first refusal, or shotgun clauses. They may also specify the method for determining the price of the shares to be transferred.

Procedural Steps

  1. Review Governing Documents: The first step in any share transfer is to review the corporation’s articles of incorporation, by-laws, and shareholders’ agreement to understand any restrictions or procedures that must be followed.
  2. Compliance with Legal Requirements: Ensure that the transfer complies with the OBCA and other relevant legislation, such as securities laws, which may apply if the shares are considered securities.
  3. Board Approval: In many cases, the board of directors must approve the transfer of shares, especially if there are restrictions on transferability.
  4. Execution of Share Transfer Documents: The parties involved must execute the appropriate share transfer documents. This typically includes a share transfer form and may require updating the corporation’s central securities register.
  5. Payment and Delivery: The purchaser typically delivers payment for the shares to the seller, and the seller delivers the share certificates, if any, to the purchaser.
  6. Update Corporate Records: The corporation’s central securities register must be updated to reflect the new ownership of the shares.

Strategic Considerations

  • Due Diligence: Potential buyers should conduct thorough due diligence to understand the financial health, operational aspects, and legal standing of the corporation whose shares they intend to purchase.
  • Valuation: Determining the fair value of the shares is critical and can be challenging. Parties often engage financial experts to conduct a valuation, especially without a predetermined formula in the shareholders’ agreement.
  • Tax Implications: Both sellers and buyers need to consider the tax implications of the share transfer. Consulting with a tax professional can help structure the transaction tax-efficiently.
  • Dispute Resolution: Share transfers can sometimes lead to disputes among shareholders. The shareholders’ agreement must outline clear mechanisms for dispute resolution.


The transfer of shares in a private corporation in Ontario involves a series of legal and procedural steps that must be carefully managed to ensure compliance with the law and to protect the interests of all parties involved. Given the complexities involved, parties are advised to seek the guidance of legal professionals specialized in corporate law to navigate these processes effectively.

Insight Law Professional Corporation is a corporate law firm. If you need guidance from a Toronto corporate lawyer, contact us and see how our firm can help.

The information provided above is of a general nature and should not be considered legal advice. Every transaction or circumstance is unique, and obtaining specific legal advice is necessary to address your particular requirements. Therefore, if you have any legal questions, it is recommended that you consult with a lawyer.

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