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

COVID
Red Deer down to 313 active cases of COVID-19

Alberta reports an additional 411 COVID-19 cases

Seniors in the 65-unit Piper Creek Lodge are among those waiting for COVID-19 vaccinations. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Central Alberta senior lodges anxiously waiting for COVID-19 vaccinations

“Should be at the front of the line, not the back of the line”

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
Economists “cautiously hopeful” for economic recovery in Alberta

Charles St. Arnaud says Alberta’s recovery will rebound along with roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw acknowledged that Friday would be one year since the first case of COVID-19 was identified in the province. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Three more Red Deer COVID-19 deaths, 331 active cases in Alberta

Red Deer is down to 362 active cases of the virus

Caitlin Kraft, the sister of Jeffery Kraft, stands third from the left, holding a sign calling for the maximum sentence for Campbell, who is charged with manslaughter. (Photo by Paul Cowley)
UPDATED: Judge again rejects submission of 7-year sentence for slaying of Kraft

Tyler John Campbell charged with second-degree murder for December 2019 homicide

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

A decommissioned pumpjack is shown at a well head on an oil and gas installation near Cremona, Alta., Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016. The Alberta Energy Regulator says it is suspending all of the licences held by an oil and gas producer with more than 2,200 wells and 2,100 pipelines after it failed to bring its operations into compliance. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Alberta Energy Regulator suspends licences of oil and gas producer that owes $67M

The company is being asked to comply with past orders to clean up historic spills and contamination

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Friday, March 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau holds firm on premiers’ health-care funding demands, COVID-19 aid comes first

Premiers argue that the current amount doesn’t keep pace with yearly cost increases of about five per cent

Pictured here is Stettler’s Jenner Smith with a guide dog from Aspen Service Dogs. An online auction will be running soon to help raise funds for Jenner to receive his very own service dog later this year. Jenner, who is four years old, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in 2019. photo submitted
An online auction is planned to raise funds for a service dog for a Stettler family

Jenner Smith, four, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in 2019

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Canada’s hockey dad had battled Parkinson’s disease and other health issues

This Dec. 2, 2020 photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of its Janssen subsidiary’s COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Johnson & Johnson via AP
Canada approves Johnson & Johnson’s 1-shot COVID-19 vaccine

It is the 4th vaccine approved in Canada and the 1st that requires just a single dose

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

Most Read