Court of Appeal of Quebec

Mercier c. Singh

April 27, 2018


St-Pierre, Hogue, Roy

Appeals from a judgment of the Superior Court condemning the appellants solidarily to pay punitive damages to the respondent. Allowed in part.

On March 8, 2007, the respondent took part in a demonstration. On that date, he was under an obligation to comply with conditions of release, including not being present at a non-peaceful demonstration. After Officer Mercier consulted with his superior officer, Sergeant Lamirande, he arrested the respondent, being of the view that he was in breach of this condition. The next day, when the respondent appeared in court, his detention was ordered. He was released on March 13, 2007. Charges were laid against him but were withdrawn by Mtre Rouillard on February 28, 2008, the morning of the trial. The trial judge found that Mercier and Lamirande, the appellant police officers, had declared the demonstration to be non-peaceful solely to justify the respondent’s arrest. The two were therefore condemned solidarily to pay him $15,000 in punitive damages, with interest and the additional indemnity as of April 7, 2009. The action against the Ville de Montréal and Mtre Rouillard was dismissed.

Solidarity is not presumed; it exists only where it is provided for by law. Article 1526 of the Civil Code of Québec (S.Q. 1991, c. 64), which provides that the extracontractual obligation to make reparation for injury caused to another through the fault of two or more persons is solidary, cannot be used as a basis for solidarity with regard to punitive damages, since they are not compensatory damages seeking to make reparation for a fault but rather damages seeking to punish and prevent the repetition of the act. Moreover, art. 1621 C.C.Q. establishes the criteria to be considered when assessing the quantum of punitive damages: the gravity of the debtor’s fault, his or her patrimonial situation, the extent of the reparation for which he or she is already liable to the creditor and, where such is the case, the fact that the payment of the reparatory damages is wholly or partly assumed by a third person. These criteria can only be assessed individually. In this case, the judge did not attribute greater fault to one accused or to other. In such circumstances, it is appropriate for the $15,000 to be shared equally. In addition, the judge erred in law by making the interest and additional indemnity on the punitive damages run from April 2009 instead of the date of the judgment.

Regarding the incidental appeal, the judge should not have analyzed the prescription applicable to the arrest and that concerning wrongful detention separately. Here, the respondent claims damages for prejudice caused by the wrongful arrest (and prosecution), including the five (5) days he spent in prison. Detention should be referred to only when assessing prejudice, not when considering fault. Consequently, there is only one starting point for prescription. In this respect, the respondent should be awarded $1,000 in moral damages to compensate for his unlawful arrest, including his detention until his appearance. 

*Summary by SOQUIJ
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