Appeal court provides guidance on contempt of court

The use of contempt of court in civil proceedings will likely diminish over time as judges begin to exercise discretionary powers to redress abuse of process under legislation originally designed to thwart SLAPPs, or strategic lawsuits against public participation, observed the Quebec Court of Appeal.

Contempt of court, an exceptional remedy given its quasi-criminal character and potentially grave sanctions, should be used sparingly and as a “last resort,” particularly since more suitable civil sanctions exist such as running the risk of losing the case on the grounds of abuse of process, dismissal of claims, the striking of allegations to institute proceedings, or even the possible forfeiture of funds held in deposit, advised the appeal court in a 24-page ruling.

“Viewing contempt as a last resort where there is an alternative remedy, better-tailored to the context, has the further advantage of reserving contempt for those cases of egregious behaviour that genuinely threaten the authority of the courts and merit the strong medicine of the quasi-criminal contempt sanction,” said Justice Nicholas Kasirer in a unanimous ruling.

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