Mario Côté inc. v. Canada (Attorney General), 2017 FCA 36, leave to appeal to SCC refused, 37526 (November 9, 2017)

12 décembre 2017 | Shahdin Farsai, Katherine Barbacki

( Disponible en anglais seulement )

The Plaintiff Mario Coté inc. (“MCI”), a trucking company specializing in the transport of farmed pigs in Quebec, applied to the Canada Agricultural Review Tribunal (CART) for review of 12 Notices of Violation and administrative penalties issued under the Health of Animals Regulations (“Regulations”).

MCI challenged s. 18(1) and s. 19 of the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act (AMP Act), which prohibit defences of due diligence and mistake of fact and impose a civil burden of proof for proving violations. At the CART hearing, MCI argued these AMP Act provisions violate the protected rights to the security of the person under s. 7 and to a fair trial under s. 11(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter).

MCI argued s. 7 was engaged in that it put the subsistence of individuals in the agriculture and agri-food industry into peril. To that end, MCI led evidence via affidavits from four individuals to demonstrate that the imposition of fines on their animal transport trucking companies devastated their livelihoods and they lost the business in which they had invested considerable time and money.

MCI argued s. 11(d) was engaged because portions of the AMP Act and its regulations are penal in nature and so persons charged must enjoy full protections set out in section 11 of the Charter. MCI argued reliance on the civil burden of proof under s. 19 of the AMP Act is contrary to the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial protected by s. 11(d). The CART dismissed MCI’s applications and upheld the Notices of Violations and resulting fines.

On application for judicial review before the Federal Court of Appeal (FCA), the FCA upheld the CART’s finding that s. 18 did not violate the right to security of the person under s. 7 of the Charter. The FCA confirmed the CART’s finding, namely, s. 7 does not protect purely economic rights, such as the right to practice the profession of one’s choosing. MCI abandoned its s. 11(d) Charter argument on appeal.

The Mario Côté inc. decision upholds the constitutional validity of the “quasi-absolute” liability (as termed by CART) for contraventions listed in the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Regulations (AMP Regulations) at least in so far as s. 7 is concerned.

Pursuant to s. 4(2) of the AMP Act, the maximum monetary penalty in the case of a violation committed by an individual other than in the course of business and not committed to obtain profit is $2,000, and in any other case, the maximum fines are $5,000 for a minor violation, $15,000 for a serious violation and $25,000 for a very serious violation.

Undoubtedly, fines multiplied over several Notices of Violations for small to medium sized business in the agriculture and agri-food industry may jeopardize the economic viability and, consequently, the individual livelihoods of the business owners. Nevertheless, any Charter arguments claiming threat to the subsistence of individuals in the agriculture and agri-food industry as a result of such fines are now foreclosed.

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