Is presuming guilt for regulatory offences still constitutional but wrong? R. v. Wholesale Travel Group Inc. and section 1 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms 20 years after.

Author:Libman, Rick
Position:Canada - The Oakes Test: A Historical Perspective

The doctrine of strict liability was embraced by the Supreme Court of Canada in R v Sault Ste Marie, a case that was decided before the Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into force. Subsequently, in R v Whole sale Travel Group Inc, the reversal of the burden of proof imposed on those charged with strict liability offences--to establish on a balance of probabilities that due diligence was exercised--was found to violate the Charter's presumption of innocence under section 11(d), and barely held to be justified under section 1. It is the author's view that strict liability offences that are punishable by imprisonment are vulnerable to Charter challenges, and remain increasingly at risk of not being saved by section 1, pursuant to the R v Oakes proportionality analysis. Developments since Wholesale Travel illustrate that there are a growing number of alternatives to strict liability offences involving imprisonment, a factor that is especially relevant for the proportionality analysis under section 1. As a result, consideration should be given to enacting a discrete category of strict liability offences that include imprisonment, and for which the prosecution should be required to prove mens rea on the part of the defendant, in order to justify the use of incarceration upon conviction. In such cases, prosecutors would be required to announce their intentions before the start of the proceedings to seek a penalty of imprisonment, in which case the reverse onus would not apply. Creating a separate category of aggravated strict liability offences that are punishable by imprisonment is another means of accomplishing this objective. Such a paradigm would help preserve the constitutionality of the doctrine of strict liability, should the Court decide to reconsider its decision in Wholesale Travel, and particularly whether section 1 of the Charter justifies the reverse onus imposed on defendants to prove due diligence in the case of strict liability offences punishable by imprisonment.

La Cour supreme du Canada a enterine la doctrine de la responsabilite stricte dans l'arret R c Sault Ste Marie, decision que la Cour a rendue avant l'entree en vigueur de la Charte des droits et libertes. Par la suite, dans l'arret R c Wholesale Travel Group Inc., la Cour a statue que le renversement du fardeau de la preuve impose aux personnes accusees d'infractions de responsabilite stricte--afin d'etablir selon 'la preponderance des probabilites qu'elles avaient fait preuve de diligence raisonnable--violait la presomption d'innocence garantie par la Charte a l'alinea 11(d) et pouvait difficilement se justifier en vertu de l'article 1. Selon l'auteur, les infractions de responsabilite stricte passibles d'unc peine d'emprisonnement sont susceptibles d'etre contestees en verto de la Charte et risquent de facon croissante de ne pas resister au test de l'article 1, suivant l'analyse de la proportionnalite etablie dans l'arret R c Oakes. Les developpements survenus depuis l'arret Wholesale Travel montrent qu'il existe un nombre croissant de solutions de rechange aux infractions de responsabilite stricte passibles d'une peine d'emprisonnement, un facteur qui se revele particulierement pertinent pour l'analyse de la proportionnalite en vertu de l'article 1. Il faut par consequent envisager de creer une categorie distincte d'infractions de responsabilite stricte comprenant une peine d'emprisonnement, a l'egard desquelles la poursuite sera tenue de prouver la mens rea (soit l'intention coupable) de la partie defenderesse et ce, afin de justifier le recours a l'incaredration sur declaration de culpabilite. Dans ces cas-la, les procureurs seraient tenus d'annoncer avant le debut des procedures leur intention de requerir une peine d'emprisonnement, auquel cas le renversement du fardeau de la preuve ne s'appliquerait pas. La creation d'une categorie distincte d'infractions qualifiees de responsabilite stricte passibles d'une peine d'emprisonnement constituerait une autre facon d'atteindre cet objectif. Un paradigme de ce type permettrait de preserver la constitutionnalite de la doctrine de la responsabilite stricte, advenant que la Cour decide de reexaminer sa decision dans l'arret Wholesale Travel, et de determiner, en particulier, dans quelle mesure l'article 1 de la Charte justifie le renversement du fardeau de la preuve impose aux defendeurs afin de demontrer leur diligence raisonnable dans le cas d'une infraction de responsabilite stricte passible d'une peine d'emprisonnement.

Table of Contents I. INTRODUCTION II. R V SAULT STE MARIE: THE HALFWAY HOUSE OPENS ITS DOORS TO STRICT LIABILITY III. R V WHOLESALE TRAVEL GROUP INC: STRICT LIABILITY SURVIVES THE CHARTER OF RIGHTS ... BARELY IV. WHOLESALE TRAVEL'S LEGACY: PRESUMING GUILT FOR REGULATORY OFFENCES IS CONSTITUTIONAL, BUT IS IT WRONG? V. BACK TO THE FUTURE: THE CASE FOR WHOLESALE CHANGES FOR WHOLESALE TRAVEL A. The Repeal of the Competition Act Strict Liability Offence of Misleading Advertising and Replacement With a new Civil Track Procedure of Reviewable Practices on Criminal Prosecution B. The Enactment under the Criminal Code of a New Negligence-Based Offence of Organizations C. The Recognition of Aggravated Forms of Strict Liability Offences D. The Requirement That the Prosecution Provide Notice of its Intention to Seek a Period of Imprisonment in The Case of ex Parte Trial Proceedings under the Ontario Provincial Offences Act E. The Law Commission of Ontario's 2011 Report on Modernizing the Provincial Offences Act VI. CONCLUSION I. INTRODUCTION

The Supreme Court of Canada introduced the notion of strict liability for regulatory offences in its seminal judgment, R v Sault Ste Marie (City). (1) According to this doctrine, strict liability may be viewed as a halfway house between mens rea (where the prosecution is required to prove fault or the requisite mental element beyond reasonable doubt, as is the case for all criminal offences) and absolute liability (where there is no fault requirement, and proof of the proscribed act, or actus reus, leads to a finding of guilt). In the case of strict liability, however, proof of the prohibited act prima facie imports the offence, which then leaves it open to the defendant to avoid liability by proving, on a balance of probabilities, that he or she took all reasonable care. More particularly, the due diligence defence, which may be raised by individuals or corporations alike, is available where the defendant reasonably believed in a mistaken set of facts which, if true, would render the act or omission innocent; or if he or she took all reasonable steps to avoid the particular event.

As a consequence of its decision in Sault Ste Marie, the Court relieved the prosecution from having to prove negligence in the case of regulatory offences. Instead, the onus was placed on the party charged with the offence to establish that he or she exercised due diligence. The Court reasoned that only the defendant would generally have the means of knowing such proof--that is, the absence of negligence therefore, it would not be unfair to impose this burden on the charged party. The alternative charge was absolute liability, in which case the defendant was denied any defence whatsoever. In the result, the prosecution was assigned the burden of proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant committed the prohibited act, whereas the defendant was obliged to prove, on the balance of probabilities, the defence of reasonable care.

In R v Wholesale Travel Group Inc, (2) rendered under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, (3) the Court was asked to determine whether this reversal of the burden of proof for strict liability offences was not merely fair, but constitutional as well. This case again involved a corporate defendant, which although, unlike a person, does not possess a liberty interest, may likewise defend itself by challenging the constitutional validity of a law. The result was a five-four split decision, in which the nine judges hearing the case delivered five separate opinions. The majority held that the reversal of the burden of proof for regulatory offences, even if in violation of the presumption of innocence under section 11(d) of the Charter, was justified by section 1; the dissenting judges ruled that section 1 could not save the Charter infringement.

To look both backward and forward, then, one may ask whether the justification for reversing the burden of proof for strict liability offences is as compelling today as when it appeared for the Court two decades ago when it decided Wholesale Travel. In view of the expansion of regulatory offences and their escalating penalty provisions, it might be queried whether Wholesale Travel would be decided the same way today. Most importantly, if it remains a Charter infringement to reverse the burden of proof in such cases, but one that can be justified by recourse to section 1, does it follow that the doctrine of strict liability is nevertheless constitutional and fair even in those cases where the prosecutor has the ability to seek punishment which involves lengthy imprisonment or, indeed, any period of incarceration, as opposed to no jail time at all? Indeed, as the dissenting judges in Wholesale Travel pointed out, there are less intrusive alternatives available to Parliament than reversing the burden of proof for strict liability offences, namely, placing an evidentiary burden on the defendant instead of a legal one.

Professor Stuart, in a case comment touching on Wholesale Travel, posed the question of whether it is too late for its reconsideration. (4) In my view, a number of developments subsequent to the Court's judgment make it particularly appropriate at this time, twenty years afterwards, to return to the issue of the constitutionality of strict liability offences that are punishable by imprisonment. Specifically, the restricted availability of jail for regulatory offences (where...

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