lundi 24 septembre 2012

Une ordonnance d'outrage au tribunal ne devrait être rendue que lorsque l'on a épuisé les autres recours disponibles

par Karim Renno
Irving Mitchell Kalichman s.e.n.c.r.l.

On le sait bien, les ordonnances d'outrage au tribunal, de par leur nature quasi pénale, sont une affaire très sérieuse. Théoriquement, de telles ordonnances peuvent sanctionner le manquement à tout jugement rendu par les tribunaux québécois, même un jugement de gestion d'instance purement procédural. C'est pourquoi, dans l'affaire Centre commercial Les Rivières inc. c. Jean Bleu inc. (2012 QCCA 1663), la Cour d'appel se penche sur la très importante question de savoir si une partie doit épuiser tous les autres recours disponibles avant de rechercher une ordonnance d'outrage au tribunal.
 

Pour les fins du présent billet, la trame factuelle complète de l'affaire importe peu. Il suffit de retenir que l'Intimée avait obtenue une ordonnance de la Cour forçant l'Appelante à lui communiquer certains documents. À l'expiration du délai prévu à l'ordonnance, l'Appelante communique à l'Intimée certains documents, mais refuse toujours d'un communiquer certains autres pour des raisons de confidentialité.
 
D'opinion que l'Appelante avait fait défaut de respecter l'ordonnance rendue, l'Intimée entame des procédures en outrage au tribunal. Suite à une audition sur la question, la Cour supérieure trouve l'Appelante coupable d'outrage au tribunal , d'où le présent appel.
 
Une des questions importantes qui se soulève dans le dossier est celle de savoir si, avant de prendre des procédures en outrage, une partie doit avoir épuisé ses autres recours possibles.
 
Au nom d'un banc unanime, l'Honorable juge Nicholas Kasirer, sans en faire une règle absolue, est d'avis que l'épuisement des recours disponibles est un facteur très important que devra prendre en considération le juge saisi de la question de l'outrage:
[63] Les Rivières submits that the trial judge should not have found it in contempt because more fitting remedies for abuse of process had not been exhausted. It states the point boldly, arguing that the requirement of exhausting all other remedies is what makes contempt a "last resort" and, as a result, should be seen as a legal precondition to a valid order of contempt. 
[...]
 
[67] Viewing contempt as a last resort where there is an alternative remedy, better-tailored to the context, has the further advantage of reserving contempt for those cases of egregious behaviour that genuinely threaten the authority of the courts and merit the strong medicine of the quasi-criminal contempt sanction. This Court has rightly warned against the notion of contempt being debased if used where more suitable remedies exist. The problem of trivializing the seriousness of contempt through inappropriate or overzealous use – the risk of contempt becoming "galvaudé" – was highlighted by the Law Reform Commission of Canada which noted that "[t]here is a very serious danger that contempt might eventually turn against those using it, and in the final analysis, involving it too frequently might do more harm than good in the interests of justice". 
[68] I am inclined, at least on the basis of the facts of the present case, to see the exhaustion of other remedies less as a formal rule of law and more as a reflection of the proper exercise of judicial discretion undertaken pursuant to article 49 C.C.P. Indeed the discretionary and contextual character of a contempt order would suggest that exhausting remedies is best viewed as a sound judicial policy rather than as an unbending legal rule. A judge seized of a motion for contempt should inquire first whether there are other available remedies suitable for redressing a party’s disobedience of a court order, reserving punitive measures of contempt for quasi-criminal conduct that meaningfully impugns the authority of the courts. While exhausting remedies may not be required as a precondition to contempt in all cases, judges should inquire whether alternative remedies to contempt exist in their evaluation of the proportionality between, on the one hand, the quasi-criminal sanctions for contempt and, on the other, the seriousness of the contemnor’s conduct and intent. 
[69] This judicial policy favouring the exhaustion of remedies is particularly apposite in respect of the alleged disobedience of a case management order such as the one that concerns us here.  
[70] Certainly no one should have thought that the failure to satisfy the requirements of Mongeon, J.’s case management order was without moment. Such orders must be respected and failure to do so may well invite serious civil sanctions. If Les Rivières failed to produce the documents in R-4 ordered by the judge, the transgression of the case management order would expose the landlord to the risk of the dismissal of its claim for the unpaid rent. Les Rivières would then not be in a position to prove – given the missing justification that it had the burden to show under Article 4 of the lease –that the occupancy costs claimed were in fact due. In that circumstance, as plaintiff, Les Rivières ran the risk of losing its case on the grounds of abuse of process. Other sanctions short of contempt would also have been easy to imagine for the violation of the case management order: the striking of allegations in Les Rivières' motion to institute proceedings, an unfavourable order as to costs, or even the possible forfeiture of the advantage of funds held on deposit in the Superior Court as stipulated in a safeguard order being among them. 
[...] 
[75] Applying the idea that the consideration of alternative remedies is a sound judicial policy to the present case, I am respectfully of the view that the trial judge should have dismissed the motion for contempt. She should have noted that a sanction such as striking allegations or even dismissing Les Rivières action would have been better suited and more proportional in the circumstances. Indeed recourse to contempt here – for the alleged violation of a case management order dealing with the availability of documents – ran the risk of decrying conduct as contempt when the role and authority of the court ran little or no risk of being devalued.
Le texte intégral du jugement est disponible ici: http://bit.ly/ULBmAA

Référence neutre: [2012] ABD 340 

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