Thibault, Mainville, Hogue
Appeals from a judgment of the Superior Court granting in part an action for damages brought by the respondents and condemning the appellants to pay them $426,100. Principal appeal dismissed and incidental appeal allowed in part ($400,000).
On January 25, 2006, 12 people searched the Manoukian home for evidence concerning Manaye, a domestic helper whom they suspected was the victim of human trafficking. Following an investigation led by Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) constables, the Manoukians were charged, on May 14, 2007, with trafficking in persons, receiving a material benefit, and withholding documents under ss. 279.01, 279.02, and 279.03 of the Criminal Code (R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46) (Cr. C.) The following May 18, 2007, the RCMP published a press release on its website and held a highly publicized press conference concerning the charges. On December 6, the charges were withdrawn before a preliminary inquiry was held. The trial judge found that considering the evidence available to the constables at the beginning of their investigation, the initial information indicated that there were reasonable and probable grounds to believe that a crime had been committed, warranting the search. The trial judge held the appellants liable, however, for the damage caused to the Manoukian family due to: (1) an expeditious if not biased investigation, characterized in particular by an attitude of systematic disregard for exculpatory evidence; (2) the submission of an incomplete report to the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (”DCPP”), which prevented an objective analysis of the file; (3) the press conference conveying facts they knew were false; and (4) the press release containing inaccurate and biased facts and clearly aimed at trying the Manoukians in the media.
The role of investigating police officers is to gather evidence and weigh it against the standards and practices established for their profession. In the present case, the judge’s criticisms of the appellants regarding the inadequacies of the evidence gathered by the constables and the need to continue their investigation are well founded. Moreover, the judge’s findings of fact that the report submitted to the DCPP was incomplete are amply supported by the evidence.
In order to conclude that there are reasonable and probable grounds for believing that an offence has been committed, it is necessary to know the constituent elements of the offence. Section 279.04 Cr. C. defines the exploitation referred to in ss. 279.01 to 279.03 Cr.C. Here, the constables gave the term “exploitation” a broad meaning without considering that definition. An ordinarily prudent, diligent and competent police officer in the same circumstances, however, would have read these provisions, concluded that they are interdependent and applied the definition set out in s. 279.04 Cr. C. Furthermore, the judge did not commit a palpable and overriding error in finding that the constables had not objectively sought to determine whether there were reasonable and probable grounds to believe that an offence had been committed, but rather had focused on the incriminating elements and had disregarded those that could have exonerated the Manoukians.
With respect to the quantum, not only were the Manoukians charged with trafficking in persons, a crime that is met with outrage and contempt, but the constables also gave false information that led the media to believe that they were guilty of this crime, which was disclosed and widely publicized and resulted in numerous newspaper articles both in Canada and abroad. As the dissemination of false information constitutes a shocking lack of respect for the dignity of the Manoukians, which crosses the threshold of unlawful and intentional interference, they are entitled to $200,000 each as punitive damages.
Text of the decision: Http://citoyens.soquij.qc.ca
Unofficial English translation: Procureur général du Canada c. Manoukian