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

Tsawaayuus Rainbow Gardens is a multi-level care facility for seniors, located on Russell Place in Port Alberni. (ELENA RARDON/ Alberni Valley News)
Third case of COVID-19 confirmed at Tsawaayuus Rainbow Gardens

Second resident diagnosed with illness from Nov. 16 outbreak

The Ahousaht First Nation confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on Nov. 26, 2020. (Westerly file photo)
Ahousaht First Nation on lockdown over COVID-19

“Emotions are high. The anxiety is high. We want our community to pull through.”

A sign at the entrance to Ty-Histanis asks visitors to stay out of the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Andrew Bailey photo)
Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation announces lockdown after member tests positive for COVID-19

Essential travel only and restricted to Tofino and Ucluelet.

Joe and Della Drinkwater pose for a formal portrait circa 1898. The Drinkwater name has been a noted one since the 1800s, and numerous landmarks and streets are named for different family members. Drinkwater Creek at the headwaters to Great Central Lake was named for Joe Drinkwater, who had a number of mining claims in the Drinkwater Valley. Joe named Della Falls—the highest waterfall in British Columbia—after his wife Della (née Fayette). The couple was married in December 1899. This photo is one of 24,000 in the Alberni Valley Museum’s online archives, available for public viewing at https://portalberni.pastperfectonline.com. (PHOTO PN01129 COURTESY AV MUSEUM)
A LOOK BACK: Joe Drinkwater carves a name for himself in the Alberni Valley

Take a peek at the history of the Alberni Valley with the AV Museum

The Harbourview Apartments on Third Avenue (popularly referred to as “The Frigstad”). ELENA RARDON PHOTO
Port Alberni city council to discuss Harbourview Apartments in-camera

Owner of the property failed to meet Nov. 12 deadline

Mary Cox and Jack Plant dance in their pyjamas and slippers at the morning pyjama dance during the Rhythm Reelers’ 25 Annual Rally in the Valley Square Dance Festival in Chilliwack on June 4, 2011. Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 is Square Dancing Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Nov. 29 to Dec. 5

Square Dancing Day, Disability Day and International Ninja Day are all coming up this week

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Kevin Bieksa during his days playing with the Vancouver Canucks. (Photo: commons.wikimedia.org)
Bieksa to guest on free Canucks Alumni ‘Hot Stove’ on Zoom app

Former NHL player has become a game analyst on Sportsnet

A small crash in the water south of Courtenay Saturday afternoon. Two men had to be rescued, but reports indicate there were no serious injuries. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Small plane crash in Comox Valley waters Saturday afternoon

Two rescued from plane that had flipped in water; no serious injuries reported

Vees goalkeeper Yaniv Perets stands watch while Tyler Ho takes the puck around the back of the net on Nov. 7. The BCHL press release did not name the player who tested positive.(Brennan Phillips - Western News)
Penticton Vees quarantining after player tests positive for COVID-19

The team, staff and billets are isolating while they are tested

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A photo from 2017, of Nuchatlaht First Nation members outside court after filing a land title case in B.C. ( Submitted photo/Nuchatlaht First Nation).
Vancouver Island First Nation calls on B.C. to honour UNDRIP in historic title case

Nuchatlaht First Nation says Crown counsel continues to stall the case using the ‘distasteful’ argument that the Nation ‘abandoned’ their land

West Vancouver Island’s Ehattesaht First Nation continues lock down after 9 active cases were reported today after a visitor tested positive last week. (Ehattesaht First Nation/Facebook)
Ehattesaht First Nation’s COVID-19 nightmare: nine active cases, a storm and a power outage

The Vancouver Island First Nation in a lockdown since the first case was reported last week

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

Most Read