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CANADIAN CHARTER OF RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS - Protection against cruel and unusual treatment or punishment - Availability of Charter protection – Corporations

Thursday, November 05, 2020 @ 2:14 PM  

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Appeal by the Attorney General of Quebec and Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions from a judgment of the Quebec Court of Appeal that found s. 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter) could apply to corporations. The respondent, 9147-0732 Quebec inc., was found guilty of carrying out construction work as a contractor without holding a current licence, an offence under s. 46 of the Quebec Building Act (Act). Pursuant to s. 197.1 of the Act, the Court of Quebec imposed the mandatory minimum fine for corporations of $30,843 on 9147-0732 Quebec inc. The Court of Quebec dismissed the corporation’s challenge to the constitutionality of the mandatory minimum fine. The Quebec Superior Court agreed that corporations were not covered by s. 12 of the Charter. The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal, finding s. 12’s association with human dignity did not prevent its application to corporations.

HELD: Appeal allowed. Section 12 of the Charter did not protect corporations from cruel and unusual treatment or punishment. Corporations were beyond s. 12’s protective scope, which was limited to human beings. The text “cruel and unusual” in s. 12 denoted protection only human beings could enjoy. The existence of human beings behind the corporate veil was insufficient to ground a s. 12 claim of right on behalf of a corporation, in light of the corporation’s separate legal personality. The role of non-binding international and comparative law was to support or confirm the interpretation of Charter rights arrived at through the Big M Drug Mart approach but not to define the scope of Charter rights. 9147-0732 Quebec inc. could not avail itself of the protection of s. 12 of the Charter to challenge the mandatory minimum fine in s. 197.1 of the Building Act.

Quebec (Attorney General) v. 9147-0732 Québec inc., [2020] S.C.J. No. 32, Supreme Court of Canada, R. Wagner C.J. and R.S. Abella, M.J. Moldaver, A. Karakatsanis, S. Côté, R. Brown, M. Rowe, S.L. Martin and N. Kasirer JJ., November 5, 2020. Digest No. TLD-November22020011-SCC