SCC Says Corporations Cannot Suffer Cruel and Unusual Punishment

  • January 18, 2021
  • Deina Warren, LL.B., LL.M.

Quebec (Attorney General) v 9147-0732 Québec Inc., 2020 SCC 32

A Quebec corporation decided that its $30,843 fine for doing construction work without a licence was too much. It challenged the mandatory minimum fine as being unconstitutional based on section 12 of the Charter which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. The corporation lost in the Court of Quebec and the Quebec Superior Court, but it persisted in appealing and won at the Quebec Court of Appeal.

That victory was short-lived (well, sort of … 20 months passed between the QCCA judgment and that of the Supreme Court of Canada) with a judgment from the SCC which fully rejects the notion that corporations benefit from the protection of s.12 of the Charter.

The majority and concurring judgments agree that the words “cruel and unusual” denote “protection that ‘only human beings can enjoy” [1]; “its intended beneficiaries are people, not corporations” [51].

That’s because the underlying purpose is “to protect human dignity and respect the inherent worth of individuals” by preventing the state from “inflicting physical or mental pain and suffering through degrading and dehumanizing treatment or punishment” [51].