Executive Summaries Nov 6, 2020

Supreme Court Rules: Protection Against Cruel and Unusual Punishment Does Not Apply to Legal Persons

On November 5th, the Supreme Court of Canada issued an important decision, that has the potential to affect a large number of corporations in Canada.

Indeed, in Québec (Attorney General) v. 9147-0732 Québec Inc. the Court decided that section 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which provides protection against all cruel and unusual treatment or punishment, is inapplicable to a legal person that decides to challenge the constitutionality of a sentence.

This decision overturns a two-to-one decision by the Quebec Court of Appeal last year.

A contractor, after receiving a statement of offence for “performing the duties of a construction contractor by executing or causing construction work to be executed without holding a valid licence for that purpose”, contrary to section 197.1 of the Building Act, argued that the minimum sentence for a conviction was disproportionate and unconstitutional. For a company, the minimum fine of $30,843 should be characterized as cruel and unusual punishment.

However, the Supreme Court established that, even in defence, a legal person cannot invoke the protection of section 12 of the Charter, since the notion of cruelty refers to that of human dignity. The evolution of this provision since 1982 has always taken into account that it applied only to natural persons. Thus, a legal person cannot, as a defence, invoke the Canadian Charter to try to invalidate a sentence that it considers disproportionate.

This decision was eagerly awaited by many entrepreneurs in Quebec, but also by the business community, given its inevitable impact in the fields of construction law, employment law and administrative law, among others.

Click here to read the full Supreme Court of Canada’s decision.

If you have any questions related to this decision, please do not hesitate to contact our Labour Law, Litigation and Penal Law teams, who are available to assist you.

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