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

Victoria police arrested a man in a Yates Street grocery store Nov. 27 after he refused to wear a mask. (Black Press Media File photo)
Belligerent man arrested in Victoria grocery store after refusing to wear mask

Officers fined the man $230 under the COVID-19 Related Measures Act

A 43-year-old woman is facing charges for impaired driving and leaving the scene of a crash after attempting to flee from police by driving down the beach in front of the Oak Bay Marina on Nov. 23. (Oak Bay Police/Twitter)
Victoria woman drives over seawall onto beach near Oak Bay Marina

Driver faces charges for fleeing crash, refusing breathalyzer test

Friends with Dorothy opens in Victoria.
LGBT2Q+ lounge Friends with Dorothy opens second location in Victoria

The Kelowna-based lounge plans to open in Victoria mid-December

Oak Bay police are searching for two men caught on camera dumping garbage bags on the side of Brighton Avenue on Nov. 26. (Ray Bernoties/Twitter)
Police seek two men caught dumping bags of trash on Oak Bay street

Garbage left on side of Brighton Avenue could lead to $81 ticket

Victoria police were called to a single-vehicle crash shortly before 3 a.m. Nov. 27. (Black Press Media file photo)
Driver dies after fiery early morning crash in Vic West

The driver was the sole occupant of the single-vehicle crash involving a hydro pole

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks along the seawall in North Vancouver Wednesday, November 25, 2020.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
911 new COVID-19 cases, 11 deaths as B.C. sees deadliest week since pandemic began

Hospitalizations reach more than 300 across the province

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

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

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.”

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Most Read