Toronto, ON - The Supreme Court of Canada has granted intervener status to the Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF) in a case called Guindon v. the Queen.
At issue is whether parliament can enact punitive legislation that sidesteps the protections guaranteed to accused persons by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, simply by characterizing the punitive measures as regulatory deterrents rather than criminal punishments.
Julie Guindon was a lawyer who became involved with a fraudulent charitable scheme. She issued 134 tax receipts on behalf of the charity. When the sham became known, the tax department imposed monetary penalties on Ms. Guindon totaling a whopping $564,747.
Ms. Guindon argued in Tax Court that this huge penalty was invalid because she had not been given the protections afforded to accused individuals under section 11 of the Charter: namely, the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven, and the right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal. The Tax Court agreed with her, but its decision was reversed on appeal. Ms. Guindon is now appealing to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The CCF has been permitted to file arguments with Canada’s highest court in advance of the hearing, which is tentatively scheduled for December 5, 2014.
Over the past few decades, it has become common for federal laws to contain two types of enforcement powers: “offence” clauses that expose individuals to criminal punishment and therefore trigger Charter defences; and “violation” clauses that allow civil servants to impose fines—purportedly as deterrents—with very little recourse or legal protection for the person being fined. These bureaucratically imposed fines are called “administrative monetary penalties” or AMPs.
Marni Soupcoff, executive director of the CCF, said, “Canadians get greater procedural protection when we’re charged with a traffic infraction than when a civil servant puts us on the hook for half a million dollars.”
“Julie Guindon’s actions may indeed have been wrong, but she is entitled to be presumed innocent until her guilt is proven before an independent judge. No bureaucrat should have the power to impose life-altering fines on a person without a proper trial.”
The CCF is very grateful to lawyers Darryl A. Cruz, Brandon Kain, Kate Findlay, and Brandon Siegal of McCarthy Tetrault LLP for their skilled pro bono work on this case.