News roundup: A truce, a crucifix and class actions

A truce has ostensibly been declared by two men who dominated the legal and political scene in Quebec over the past year. Premier Jean Charest and former Justice Minister Marc Bellemare have seemingly dropped lawsuits against each other, launched in the wake of the judicial nomination scandal in the province.

Nearly a year ago the former justice minister rocked Quebec with explosive allegations that powerful party fundraisers tainted the judicial appointment process six years ago. On the same day Bellemare lodged a formal complaint with Quebec’s provincial police force, Premier Charest launched a $700,000 libel lawsuit against the former justice minister for “false, malicious and defamatory remarks” and appointed former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Michel Bastarache to preside over a commission of inquiry into Bellemare’s allegations. Bellemare, in turn, sued Charest as well.

The Bastarache commission made in late January sweeping recommendations to address “several weaknesses” in the Quebec judicial selection and appointment process “vulnerable to all manner of interventions and influence” even though it dismissed Bellemare’s allegations that he acted under undue pressure by Liberal Party fundraisers, with the consent of Premier Charest, in the appointment of judges.

Last month the Quebec government introduced a series of new interim rules that drew tepid praise.

In a press release issued yesterday, Bellemare gives a number of reasons for dropping the suit, surprisingly stating that the whole episode “was blown out of all proportion.” He also said that the lawsuits and the Bastarache commission “cost Quebec taxpayers millions of dollars.” Quebec taxpayers, however, were no longer picking up the tab for the legal battle the two protagonists were fighting against each other.

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Never mix politics and religion, so the adage goes. Jean Tremblay, mayor of the City of Saguenay, doesn’t buy it.

The City and the mayor were recently ordered to pay $30,000 in moral and punitive damages by a Quebec Human Rights Tribunal to a citizen for discriminating against his freedom of religion and conscience, and to remove a crucifix and a Sacred Heart statue from city council meetings as well as to stop reciting a prayer before each city council meeting. “By reciting a prayer and displaying religious symbols in a hall where all citizens are invited to participate in the life of a democratic municipality, the Mayor and the City of Saguenay did not respect its obligation to remain neutral,” said the Tribunal.

The outspoken mayor launched a campaign to collect funds for an appeal, and it’s working. So far, the city has collected more than $100,000, an indication that “Quebecers are attached to their identity, their tradition and their culture,” says the mayor.

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Quebec used to have a deserved reputation as being a haven for class action suits.

The pendulum began to swing four years ago when the appellate court affirmed in Bouchard v. Agropur Coopérative et al the necessity of a legal relationship between the petitioner and all of the entities he wishes to sue. In Lallier vs Volkswagen Canada inc. and Del Guidice c. Honda Canada inc., the Court of Appeal established more precise criteria that place a higher burden on plaintiffs to pass the authorization stage, said class action expert Peter Richardson of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP. “These are criteria defense lawyers have been trying to plead for many years but maybe now are getting recognition,” said Richardson, who successfully pleaded the Volkswagen case.

“It’s never been easy to obtain class action authorizations, but with these two rulings the Quebec Court of Appeal has certainly made it more difficult than ever,” remarked class action expert Fred Adams of Adams Gareau in Montreal.

It may be more daunting but it is certainly possible. Over the past week Quebec Superior Court authorized two class actions.

A class-action lawsuit launched by a Montreal sixplex building owner who blames Montreal’s aging sewage pipes for repeated flooding over the last five years was granted authorization. Eugène Robitaille is seeking $2,000 for each homeowner who signs on as well as the cost of repairs.

Also granted authorization was a class action launched by Option consommateurs, a consumer rights non-profit organization, against furniture retailer The Brick for alleged misleading advertisement. Option consommateurs is seeking punitive damages of $5 million after it says The Brick claimed clients would not have to pay interest on financed purchases for 15 months. The suit says that clients are in fact charged an annual fee of $35.

About Luis Millán 351 Articles
I am a law and business journalist. I write for Canadian Lawyer, the National, a magazine published by the Canadian Bar Association, and The Lawyers Weekly, an independent legal Canadian publication. This blog is in no way affiliated with any of these publications.

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