nov. 13. 2020

Don’t be CRUEL … ok JUST BE CRUEL to Companies….

Québec (Procureure générale) c. 9147-0732 Québec inc., 2020 CSC 32 (CanLII)
The Supreme Court of Canada confirms that the Charter of Rights does not give companies protection from cruel and unusual punishment as provided under s. 12 of the Charter. That protection is only for humans, physical persons, and not legal persons as we say in Québec.

That is one cool conclusion and only possible because of one stubborn business person.
Quebec (Attorney General) v. 9147-0732 Québec inc., 2020 SCC 32(Supreme Court of Canada Bulletin, November 2020)

This little company (9147-0732 Québec inc) was fined $30,843 and appealed it since it considered that this fine was CRUEL AND UNUSUAL punishment, thus contravening s. 12 of the Charter of Rights. There did not appear to be any better defences, but this one was ingenious. The Court of Quebec, a very practical bench, did not agree. This was too good to pass up, so appeal they did!

They won in the Quebec Court of Appeal. On Appeal, the judges considered that excessive fines could be CRUEL to a small business. The stubborn businessman was vindicated. It cost 20k or so (conservatively), by the time he went to appeal, so they are ahead of the game. That stubborn business person got this judgment from 2007 overturned in 2019.

But the government says, hold on! This is not right!They got leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

And now, the final word. Our Supremes were quite clear, you cannot be cruel to a company … the protection itself, against cruel and unusual punishment, is of a nature and is intended to protect human dignity; not that of a legal person.
This judgment is interesting because it allows someone to be CRUEL to a company without violating s.12 of the Charter. Let your imagination run wild. Are we to create a new field of corporate sadism to explore how cruel we can be to companies?
The stubborn business person provided some entertainment for me, but I don’t think that this was worth the $50K+ in legal fees and the $30k fine which started this process.

More to the point, this adds some more thought to how far we can have companies pretend to have the same rights as people. Don’t get me wrong, I love the rights bestowed to legal persons over the centuries. They can contract, they can sue, they can’t die, other than in bankruptcy (and I have even seen one of them be resurrected). Corporations are spectacular creations, but you have to have some limits and not all the crazy decisions to lift the corporate veil when it’s convenient (this is another story and one of my pet peeves).