Disclosing documents to police does not necessarily entail a waiver of privilege, holds Quebec Appeal Court

A voluntary disclosure of a report protected by privilege to assist police in a criminal investigation does not quash the privileges attached to the document held the Quebec Court of Appeal in overturning a lower court decision, the latest indication that case law surrounding privilege continues to evolve, according to a legal expert.

In a decision that reviews and revisits Quebec case law surrounding privilege, the Quebec Appeal Court held that it would be contrary to public policy for the disclosure of privileged documents in criminal proceedings to “somehow” have the effect removing privileges attached to those documents. The waiver of lawyer-client privilege must be clear and unequivocal, added the Appeal Court in Centre universitaire de santé McGill c. Lemay, 2022 QCCA 1394.

Disclosure to a third party information protected by solicitor-client privilege in principle entails waiver of the privilege but the Quebec Court of Appeal emphasizes that context must be considered, which must take into account all the circumstances in the case, noted Montreal litigator with Lavery de Billy LLP, who recently published an article entitled “Professional secrecy and testimonial immunity” for the legal encyclopedia JurisClasseur Québec.

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McGill law professors unionized

Almost a year to the day when McGill law professors formally launched proceedings to become recognized as an exclusive bargaining unit for faculty members, the longer than expected legal battle culminated with an unequivocal victory after the Quebec labour board issued granted certification, a first for professors in the university’s 200-year history.

The “slam dunk” decision by the Quebec Administrative Labour Tribunal sets the stage for changes to the labour landscape at McGill, with the new union intending to flex its muscles over a growing inclination towards centralization at the university, safeguard the collegial governance at the faculty level and negotiate a collective agreement that will provide better working conditions and security, according to leaders of the Association of McGill Law Professors (AMPL).

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Parents appeal decision to remove allowing hospital to remove child’s breathing tube

The parents of a five-year old child who has been in a coma for the past six months will appeal a Quebec Superior Court decision allowing a Montreal children’s hospital to permanently remove the breathing apparatus in a heart-breaking case that is in line with jurisprudence, according to health law experts.

The decision by Quebec Superior Court Justice Bernard Jolin, commended for being sensitive, solicitous and thoughtful, reaffirms that the best interests of the child must prevail, underlines that courts do not “strip” parents of their parental authority when going against their wishes but rather “corrects their manifestly erroneous decision,” highlights that the courts will take into account suffering as an important consideration, and illustrates the strain that may arise between faith and medical evidence.

“It’s not a judgment that breaks new ground in law but I am pleasantly surprised by the tact with which the judge goes about it,” said Montreal lawyer François Dupin, Ad.E, formerly with the Public Curator of Quebec. “He tries to explain the ins and outs of his grave decision. That’s important because if he was just concerned about the legal thing, he could have asked for the provisional execution of the judgment. But he didn’t do that. He wanted to give the parents a chance to appeal.” In Quebec, litigants challenging forced medical care have five days to ask the Quebec Court of Appeal to review the decision.

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Landmark ruling curbs arbitrary police stops in racial profiling case

An “obsolete” common law rule framed by a 1990 Supreme Court of Canada ruling and codified by the Quebec Highway Safety Code that allowed police to randomly conduct motor vehicle stops without cause was set aside by a landmark Quebec Superior Court decision that held it was in violation of the Canadian Charter and a “vector, even a safe harbour” for racial profiling against the Black community.

In a decision hailed as historic as it recognizes that racial profiling is a reality that “weighs heavily” on Black communities, particularly Black drivers, Quebec Superior Court Justice Michel Yergeau held that the arbitrary power police have to carry out roadside stops without grounds is in breach of s. 7, 9 and notably 15.1 of the Charter, ostensibly the first time that s. 15 has been used to invalidate or declare inoperative a criminal provision, according to legal experts.

“We’re not there yet but potentially this decision will have an impact everywhere in Canada,” noted Karine Joizil, a Montreal litigator with McCarthy Tétrault who represented the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, intervenors in the case. “What struck me is the clarity of the decision, and what this judgment is not about. It’s not a judgement against roadblocks, against police work, or on the values of the police. It’s really a judgment about whether s. 636 (of the Quebec Highway Safety Code) is well drafted or has the effect of creating a prejudicial effect for a category of the population that is otherwise protected by rights guaranteed under the Charter. It’s a wise and timely decision.”

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Quebec Court reaffirms authority of Aboriginal communities in youth protection

First Nations that have implemented youth protection legislation under the auspices of the federal Bill C-92 have jurisdiction over youth welfare regardless of place of residence held a provincial court judge in a decision viewed by legal experts as a precedent.

The long-awaited decision, widely regarded by legal pundits as an important stepping stone towards the right to self-government for First Nations, reaffirms the generic right to self-determination, confirms the authority of Aboriginal communities to withdraw children from the care of Quebec youth protection authorities, and highlights the importance of negotiating in good faith.

“This is the first judgment in such a matter, and we hope it will create a precedent,” said Frédéric Boily, a lawyer with Simard Boivin Lemieux in Dobeau-Mistassini in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint Jean region who represented the the Conseil des Atikamekw d’Opitciwan, an intervener in the case. “So another Aboriginal community that wanted to follow in our client’s footsteps would indeed have good moorings on which to build.”

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New guidance provided Quebec Appeal Court over forced hospitalizations

An elderly single woman spearheaded a significant advancement for the rights of people who are ordered to be hospitalized after the Quebec Court of Appeal considerably broadened the obligations of the courts and healthcare institutions to appoint in most cases an ex officio lawyer to safeguard their rights and interests.

The decision, hailed by mental health legal experts as a step in the right direction, all but compels trial judges to appoint ex officio lawyers to represent the interests of individuals deemed to be “incapable” by the court, underlines that hospitals must ensure that such individuals have the opportunity to obtain counsel, and emphasizes that incapable people too have rights that must be respected, according to mental health legal experts.

“The Court of Appeal calls on the courts of first instance to take these matters seriously and to give due weight to judicial debates, as it should, with the contribution of lawyers in most cases,” noted Emmanuelle Bernheim, University of Ottawa law professor and Canada Research Chair in Mental Health and Access to Justice. “The Appeal Court also stresses that the rights (of incapable individuals) are important and they must be debated, and the role of the court is not just to endorse measures taken by others who are doctors. It doesn’t matter how unfit people are. Unfitness does not mean that you can intervene and infringe on someone’s right to integrity and freedom, and that deserves a judicial debate.”

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Quebec Appeal Court increases sentence for sexually assaulting a child

A 21-year old school janitor who sexually assaulted a 13-year old child had his sentence increased to 15 months imprisonment from 90 days by a divided Quebec Court of Appeal after the majority held that the trial judge failed to prioritize denunciation and deterrence as overriding factors.

The majority decision crystallizes the growing trend to mete out tougher punishments for sexual crimes against children following a seminal Supreme Court of Canada decision, and it appears to send a strong message to trial judges following a recent controversial decision that caused an uproar in the province, according to criminal legal experts.

“The message is clear,” said Université de Montréal criminal law professor and author Hugues Parent. “When there is no demonstration of rehabilitation on the part of the accused, when it is not convincing, the objectives of denunciation and dissuasion must be predominant, as a priority in child sex cases. So, from that point on, it is certain that the sentence will be very severe.”

According to Julien Grégoire, a Quebec City criminal lawyer, the Appeal Court judgment illustrates, despite the dissent, that the key principles of the landmark SCC decision in R. v. Friesen, 2020 SCC 9 involving the abuse and exploitation of children, “are now inescapable and it is not enough (for the courts) to state them but to apply them in practice.”

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New trial ordered by Quebec Appeal Court for man convicted of sexual interference on a child

A new trial for a man convicted of sexual interference on a child was ordered by the Quebec Court of Appeal after it held that the trial judge’s refusal to allow the re-opening of the complainant’s cross-examination infringed his right to make full answer and defence.

In a decision brimming with guidance over the scope of sections 10 and 11 of the Canada Evidence Act to dispel “some confusion” around cross-examinations on prior inconsistent statements, the Quebec Appeal Court held that despite the impact of a new trial on the complainant, an autistic child, who will have to testify again, “no other outcome can be considered” when the right to a full answer and defence and the right to a fair trial have been infringed.

“My first reaction is to deplore a reflex on the part of some judges to bow to public pressure in matters of sexual assault, especially when the complainant is a young person,” remarked Jean-Claude Hébert, a prominent Montreal criminal lawyer. “The Court of Appeal, firmly based on the current state of the law, correctly criticizes the trial judge for having erred in the exercise of her discretion regarding the right to a fair trial, in which case an accused person must be allowed to make a full answer and defence.”

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Plaintiff class action legal fees under the microscope

A $28-million settlement reached with a Catholic religious order in a sexual abuse class action was rejected by Quebec Superior Court because of the high legal fees associated with the agreement, the second Quebec class action settlement in the past month whose legal fees have been the subject of a critical assessment.

The decision by Quebec Superior Court Justice Thomas Davis to rebuff a settlement for more than 375 alleged victims of sexual assaults committed by members and employees of the Clercs de Saint-Viateur of Canada follows on the heels of a ruling in mid-June by Quebec Superior Court Justice Daniel Dumais to curb plaintiff class action legal fees by 20 per cent in the so-called Dieselgate scandal in which German carmaker Volkswagen AG violated Canadian emissions standards.

The decisions underline that settlement approvals are not a rubber stamping exercise, demonstrate that the courts will take into account the Code of Professional Conduct of Lawyers (Code) when examining plaintiff class action legal fees, reiterate the importance of transparency vis-à-vis clients even in a class action setting, and illustrate why settlement approvals should be separate from and not contingent on class counsel fee approvals, according to class action legal experts.

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Legal experts hope first remediation agreement under Criminal Code will lead to more

Nearly four years after the federal government added deferred prosecution agreements to the Criminal Code as part of its arsenal to fight corruption and other white-collar crime, legal experts hope that guidance provided by Quebec Superior Court in Canada’s first ever remediation agreement will prompt federal prosecutors and organizations to take advantage of the new way of settling criminal charges.

The comprehensive, meticulous and “important” decision introduces a “welcome” degree of certainty to the new process in the absence of accompanying regulations, guidelines or policies in the remediation agreement regime, according to legal experts. The ruling by Quebec Superior Court Justice Éric Downs sheds light on how remediation agreements will be broached by the courts, indicating that while they will not act as a “rubber stamp” in reviewing proposed settlements, the agreements will be afforded a high degree of deference, added the experts. The judgment also signals that self-reporting, though not a “hard condition,” will carry considerable weight as does “strong cooperation” to help sway the courts to sanction the agreement, they added.

“It’s an important decision because there were question marks around how the courts would approach the approval of a remediation agreement and how involved they would be in the process,” noted Louis-Martin O’Neill, a Montreal M&A and securities litigator with Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP. “The Court was very mindful of the fact that there is a huge need for stability in the system, and that implies that when a corporation starts to negotiate with the prosecution for a remediation agreement it has to know that unless something very grave happens, that agreement should stick when presented to the court.”

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Some provisions of federal patented drug pricing regime unconstitutional

The federal government will have to overhaul its regulatory approach and guidelines over patented drug pricing after the Quebec Court of Appeal found a couple of provisions to be unconstitutional and outside the scope of federal jurisdiction over patents, according to a legal expert.

The Appeal Court ruling, expected to have a significant impact on the pharmaceutical industry in Canada, upheld the constitutionality of the legislative framework of the Patented Medicines Prices Review Board (PMPRB) and it current regulations. In a unanimous decision, the Appeal found that controlling abusive pricing of medicines resulting from a monopoly conferred by a patent has a logical, real and direct connection with federal jurisdiction over patents and does not constitutionally encroach on provincial jurisdiction.

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