Montreal's Blue Collar Union Tries To Avoid Paying $2 Million In Punitive Damages: The Court Of Appeal Says No!

On May 16, 2016, the Quebec Court of Appeal refused to suspend immediate execution of a judgment rendered by the Superior Court of Quebec in a case involving the union of Montreal's blue-collar workers (the "Union") and the City of Montreal, in which the Union was ordered to pay $2 million in punitive damages1.

The facts of the case are as follows: from December 5 to 12, 2004, the Union stopped spreading abrasives on city sidewalks in order to voice its dissatisfaction with the new collective agreement. Unfortunately, several accidents occurred as a result of this illegal pressure tactic, as the sidewalks were dangerously icy during that period due to prevailing weather conditions. A class action was subsequently instituted on behalf of the accident victims claiming compensatory damages, as well as punitive damages to sanction the intentional fault of the Union.

The claim for punitive damages was based on unlawful interference with the right of every citizen to health and safety, which is protected by the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms2 (the "Charter"). In order for such damages to be awarded, the Charter specifies that the interference must be unlawful and intentional3. The Supreme Court of Canada has stated that this condition is met when the person who commits the unlawful interference acts with full knowledge of the consequences that his or her conduct will cause4.

In September 2010, Justice Danielle Grenier of the Superior Court of Quebec concluded that the suspension of sidewalk maintenance operations by the Union had been done deliberately and with full knowledge of the likely consequences, and that its inaction was indicative of complete disregard for the accidents that would inevitably ensue and constituted socially unacceptable behaviour on the part of the Union.

The awarding of punitive damages is governed by Article 1621 of the Civil Code of Québec, which specifies their preventive and dissuasive purpose, and sets out the factors to be considered in awarding them. Thus, the gravity of the fault, the perpetrator's patrimonial situation, the extent of reparation the perpetrator is already liable for, and whether the payment of the reparatory damages is being wholly or partly assumed by a third party are among the factors to be taken into account by the court in determining the amount of punitive damages to be assessed.

In 2013, the Court of Appeal decided in the instant case that the quantum of punitive damages should...

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