Clouds pass by the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa, Friday June 12, 2020. The Supreme Court of Canada says only people, not corporations, benefit from the charter protection against cruel and unusual punishment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Clouds pass by the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa, Friday June 12, 2020. The Supreme Court of Canada says only people, not corporations, benefit from the charter protection against cruel and unusual punishment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Protection against cruel punishment doesn’t apply to corporations: Supreme Court

‘It is a constitutional standard that cannot apply to treatments or punishments imposed on corporations’

Only people, not corporations, benefit from the charter protection against cruel or unusual punishment, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled.

The unanimous decision came Thursday in a case involving a numbered company that faced a fine under the Quebec Building Act for construction work done as a contractor without a licence.

The corporation was fined $30,843, the minimum penalty for corporations, upon being found guilty.

The corporation challenged the constitutionality of the fine, arguing it violated the guarantee of protection against “any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment” in Section 12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The province’s Superior Court ruled that corporations are not protected under the constitutional provision.

However, in a split decision the Quebec Court of Appeal overturned the finding and said the section can in fact apply, sending the matter back to trial court to rule on the issue of the fine.

That prompted Quebec’s attorney general and director of prosecutions to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Though its ruling Thursday was unanimous, the nine-member court provided three sets of reasons for setting aside the Quebec Court of Appeal ruling.

In writing for a majority of the court, justices Russell Brown and Malcolm Rowe said the protective scope of Section 12 is limited to human beings.

The top court’s jurisprudence on the section has been marked by the concept of human dignity, and the fact that human beings are “behind the corporate veil” is not enough to ground the corporation’s claim of protection, they wrote.

The dissenting judge from the Quebec Court of Appeal rightly emphasized that the ordinary meaning of the word “cruel” does not allow its application to inanimate objects or legal entities such as corporations, they added.

Brown and Rowe also pointed out that the Supreme Court had previously concluded that a corporation could not avail itself of protection under Section 7 of the charter, concerning “life, liberty or security of the person.”

Excessive fines alone are not unconstitutional, a majority of the court concluded.

The judges said that a fine, to be unconstitutional, must be so excessive as to outrage standards of decency and abhorrent or intolerable to society.

This threshold, in accordance with the purpose of the protection against cruel punishment, is anchored in human dignity, the ruling said.

“It is a constitutional standard that cannot apply to treatments or punishments imposed on corporations.”

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Supreme Court

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Ty Hainsworth / Facebook)
No injuries after fire rips through Saran Fruit Market near Oliver

A fruit stand caught fire Tuesday afternoon

Masks are now officially mandatory in all City of Campbell River facilities. (Black Press File Photo)
Interior Health reports 49 new COVID-19 cases overnight

302 cases remain active; two in hospital

Trixie, an Elf on a Shelf like the one pictured here, will hiding around Osoyoos' parks in December. (Contributed)
Can you find Trixie the Elf in Osoyoos?

The elf has left the shelf to hide in the parks around town

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. daily COVID-19 cases hits record 941 on Tuesday

Further restrictions on indoor exercise take effect

(Pixabay.com)
Man, 28, warned by Kootenay police to stop asking people to marry him

A woman initially reported the incident to police before they discovered others had been popped the question

Winston Blackmore (left) and James Oler (right) were sentenced on separate charges of polygamy this week in Cranbrook Supreme Court.
No more charges expected in Bountiful investigation, special prosecutor says

Special prosecutor says mandate has ended following review of evidence from Bountiful investigations

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Garage in Kelowna burns to the ground, blaze deemed suspicious

Fire crews responded to the scene just after 4:30 p.m.

(Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Refuse to follow B.C.’s mask mandate? Face a $230 fine

Masks are now required to be worn by all British Columbians, 12 years and older

Damien Smith, with father Thomas Smith, is “frozen” with joy as he watches a special message Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds recorded for Damien’s 9th birthday on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. (Contributed)
Shuswap boy celebrates 9th birthday with family, community and Ryan Reynolds

People from around the world send birthday cards showing young Canoe resident he’s not alone

A major reconstruction project on 32nd Avenue is nearing completion and the road is now re-opened to traffic between 33rd Street and 35th Street. (City of Vernon photo)
ROAD REPORT: More roundabouts coming to North Okanagan

New intersection lights up Dec. 13, 30th Street paving delayed, PV Road completed in Vernon

In this handout photo provided by the Philippine Red Cross, families stay at a temporary evacuation center at Catanduanes province, eastern Philippines, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, as Typhoon Goni hits the country. Families living near coastal towns have moved to evacuation centers as the strong typhoon makes landfall. (Philippine Red Cross via AP)
Okanagan community group organizes fundraiser for typhoon-hit Philippines

Over two million people have been affected by flooding, with about 500,000 forced to leave homes

O’Rourkes Peak Cellars is located in Lake Country, B.C. (Contributed)
Lake Country winery temporarily closes due to possible COVID-19 exposure

The establishment plans to reopen on Dec. 4 after a deep clean

Most Read