Victim Fine Surcharges ruled to be Unconstitutional and contrary to Section 12 of the Charter (Cruel and Unusual Punishment) – Regina v. Boudreault, 2018 SCC 58 (CanLII)

Published On: Dec 20,2018

Supreme Court of Canada strikes down Victim Fine Surcharges.
Supreme Court of Canada strikes down Victim Fine Surcharges.
Upon the imposition of penalty, the Criminal Code of Canada (R.S.C.., 1985, c. C-46)once imposed a victim find surcharges upon the entry of a conviction and/or penalty pursuant to section s. 737.   The amount is set by law and is owed for each and every summary conviction or indictable offence. The surcharge is intended to fund government programs designed to assist victims of crime. The surcharge applies regardless of the severity of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the effects of the crime on the victim.  That section said:
737 (1) An offender who is convicted, or discharged under section 730, of an offence under this Act, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act or the Cannabis Act shall pay a victim surcharge, in addition to any other punishment imposed on the offender. Amount of surcharge (2) Subject to subsection (3), the amount of the victim surcharge in respect of an offence is (a) 30 per cent of any fine that is imposed on the offender for the offence; or (b) if no fine is imposed on the offender for the offence, (i) $100 in the case of an offence punishable by summary conviction, and (ii) $200 in the case of an offence punishable by indictment.
That section was struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada in Regina v. Boudreault, 2018 SCC 58 (CanLII), wherein the majority of that Court struck down the mandatory victim surcharge. A Supreme Court hard a number of appeals together considering the same issue.  The section is now of no force or effect.  The majority held the victim surcharge was a form of “punishment,” and therefore subject to the Charter right against cruel and unusual punishment pursuant to Section 12 of the Charter.  Some of the offenders before the Court lived in dire straights (i.e. serious poverty, deliberating addiction issues, deplorable housing, and physical issues).  Some of these offenders were recidivists, who regularly appeared before the courts, and got fined.   What is more, the consequences of failing to pay to fee could (but not necessarily) result in being taken into custody (at her Majesty’s Institutions), among other things (i.e. collection agency actions).  A fit sentence for the appellants would not include such a fine, and the overall operation and effects of the mandatory fine were grossly disproportionate.
The court continued by positing that the ongoing enforcement of victim surcharges that were imposed before the date of its judgment would violate s.12 of the Charter at each step. This could arise, where the offender is arrested or brought to court for a financial update.  The Court stated:
The surcharge constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and therefore violates s. 12 of the Charter, because its impact and effects create circumstances that are grossly disproportionate to what would otherwise be a fit sentence, outrage the standards of decency, and are both abhorrent and intolerable. In the circumstances of this case, the fit sentence for the offenders would not have included the surcharge, as it would have caused undue hardship given their impecuniosity. Sentencing is first and foremost an individualized exercise which balances various goals, while taking into account the particular circumstances of the offender as well as the nature and number of his or her crimes. The crucial issue is whether the offenders are able to pay, and in this case, they are not.
However, the court left open the issue of remedy for persons in this situation, but suggested that remedies are available under s.24(1) of the Charter, and that Parliament could act administratively to create a remedy.
There were two (2) dissenting Justice.  Justice Côté, writing in dissent for herself, and Justice Rowe,would have held that:
[114] I respectfully disagree.  While I accept that the mandatory imposition of the victim surcharge may have a particularly negative impact on impecunious offenders, I cannot accept that it amounts to treatment or punishment that is truly “cruel and unusual”, as that phrase has been interpreted in this Court’s jurisprudence.  Moreover, I am of the view that the impugned provision does not deprive impecunious offenders of their security of the person, and that any deprivation of liberty that may result from the application of s. 737 of the Criminal Code accords with the principles of fundamental justice.  For these reasons, I discern no violation of either ss. 12 or 7 of the Charter, and I would dismiss the appeals accordingly.
If you have been charged with a criminal offence, contact Mr. J.S. Patel, Criminal Lawyer in Toronto and Calgary at 403-585-1960.