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Notions of fault

R. v. City of Sault Ste. Marie [1978] 2 S.C.R. 1299

FACTS

This is about strict liability offences that are applied using the tools of criminal liability. The City was charged with polluting nearby rivers.  

ISSUE

Is the City also guilty for the pollution caused by the company it hired to dispose of its waste?

HELD

New trial ordered. Appeal dismissed.

RATIO

The test is a factual one, based on an assessment of the defendant’s position with respect to the activity which causes pollution.  If it can and should control the activity at the point where the pollution occurs, then it is responsible for the pollution.

NOTES

Sault Ste. Marie is one of the most important cases ever decided in Canadian criminal law.

Ontario penal statute refers to offences enacted by the provinces.  Interpretation of the statute gave SCC the opportunity to review criminal and penal statutes.

Analysis of fault is important.

Deals with environmental protection legislation.

The distinction between what are matters for regulatory law and what are matters for criminal law is unclear.

This is about the choice involved in interpreting the offences.

Absolute liability interpretation.  Sault Ste. Marie created a new form of liability: strict liability in which the essence of guilt would be proof of the actus reus, but for one thing, the accused would have a defence based on the concept of fault: due diligence or absence of negligence.

So between absolute liability and what is called true crimes there exists strict liability.

R. v. Wholesale Travel Group Inc. [1991] 3 S.C.R. 154

FACTS

Travel agency accused of misleading advertising in violation of what is now s. 60(2) of the Competition Act.  The offence carries a fine and possible prison sentence.

ISSUE

Is the offence outlined in the Act a criminal or regulatory offence?

HELD

The offence is regulatory.

RATIO

The provision focuses on the harmful consequences of otherwise lawful conduct and not on moral turpitude (such as dishonesty).

R. v. Chapin [1979] 2 S.C.R. 121

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