Legal Traps for the Unwary Immigrant Business Owner

Many immigrants come to Canada with a dream of one day being their own boss. Running a business is a great way to get ahead in your new homeland, but there are big risks that you may not be aware of. The concepts of profit and loss are the same the world over, but the laws that apply to your business can be very different from other cities and countries depending on where your business is located.

Understanding Canadian commercial law is complicated for many business owners, but if you are new to the country, what you don’t know about the law could have very negative consequences for your business. We’ve all heard stories of people who have lost their business licences because of accidental violations; landlords who terminated longstanding commercial leases with minimal notice; partnerships gone bad after tremendous success or devastating failure; and of course the everyday challenges of business people who can’t get paid by their customers. These are the sorts of problems that can be devastating to your business, but they are entirely avoidable with legal advice.

Before you invest your savings in launching a business, here are some basic legal questions you should be able to answer:

1. Do I know what type of business structure I want to set up (ie, corporation, partnership or sole proprietorship);

2. Do I know what permits and licenses are needed to run my business legally;

3. Does my place of business comply with all municipal, zoning, health, fire, transportation and environmental requirements;

4. Do my business contracts protect me and my business as much as possible; and

5. Do I really understand my lease, financing agreements, partnership agreements and other material business contracts?

Conclusion: Answering these questions will significantly boost your chances of building a successful and legally protected business. If you are unsure about your answers to these questions, your business should consider seeking legal advice.

Connect Legal is a registered charity that provides free legal advice and education to low-resource small business owners in the immigrant community who cannot afford a lawyer in Ontario. Connect Legal’s Free Lawyer Matching Service provides free commercial legal advice for small businesses and Connect Legal’s legal workshops educate owners on running a small business.

Over the past two years, Connect Legal has helped over 300 low-resource immigrant entrepreneurs through interactive workshops covering important commercial law topics on running a small business, and through Connect Legal’s Pro-Bono Lawyer Matching Service, which connects entrepreneurs with free volunteer lawyers to meet a specific legal need for their business.

For more information about Connect Legal’s services and how to apply for assistance, please visit or e-mail Connect Legal at


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