Canada: Quebec Court Of Appeal Rules On The Immunity Of Municipalities For Firefighting Under The Fire Safety Act

Approximately two years ago, the Quebec Superior Court was called upon to rule on a dispute concerning the interpretation to be given to a provision of Bill 112, adopted in June 2000. This bill, which would become the Fire Safety Act,1 was the culmination of several years of consultations by the Quebec Public Security Ministry with the various stakeholders in the area of fire prevention. The goal of the process was to reduce human and material loss attributable to fire. The Act introduces "fire safety cover plans" as a primary tool for fire safety management by elected municipal officials. It is also meant to assist the planning of emergency response operations by fire safety personnel on the ground. A major benefit for a municipality or regional county municipality (RCM) of adopting and implementing a "fire safety cover plan" is that it affords immunity from being sued in relation to fire service interventions. That immunity, conferred pursuant to section 47 of the Act (the Immunity), had not been considered by the Quebec courts until March 31, 2011, when Justice Daniel W. Payette of Quebec Superior Court handed down his judgment in Compagnie canadienne d'assurances générales Lombard c  St Jérôme (Ville de).2

On June 5, 2013, the Court of Appeal upheld the Superior Court ruling and the interpretation given by Justice Payette to the scope of the Immunity. The Union of Quebec Municipalities (UMQ) obtained authorization from the court to act as intervener in this appeal.

Trial judgment

In first instance, Justice Daniel W. Payette had to rule on a single question, namely, whether the City of St-Jérôme (the City) could benefit from the Immunity in connection with legal proceedings taken in regard to an intervention by its fire department at the scene of a fire in April 2005.3 The insurer (Lombard), subrogated to the rights of the owner of the damaged property, alleged in the action that the City's fire department had been negligent by, among other things, not ensuring that the fire was truly extinguished before the responders had left the scene. In fact, the fire had started again after the firefighters left, resulting in substantial additional damage to the property. In defence, the City invoked the Immunity under section 47 of the Act since, in the summer of 2003, it had established a fire safety cover plan (the Cover Plan). The Cover Plan had been adopted in August 2003 and been declared compliant by the Minister of Public Security (the Minister) in May 2004.

Since the questions relating to the adoption, the entry into force and the implementation of the Cover Plan by the City were the subject of joint admissions by the parties, the court's analysis was limited to the dispute regarding the interpretation of the word "intervention" as used in section 47 of the Act. The section provides that the fire safety service of an entity that has duly adopted and implemented a fire safety cover plan is "exempt from liability for any damage that may result from [its] intervention during a fire [...]."

Justice Payette began by pointing to a statement by the Minister at the time indicating that the Act's adoption had sought to neutralize the "pernicious" effects of decisions rendered by the courts in the wake of the ruling in Laurentide Motels Ltd. v Beauport (City).4 In that case, the Supreme Court of Canada had found that while municipalities could not be held liable for their discretionary policy decisions, they could be held liable for the decisions made by them in relation to the practical execution of those policy decisions. Justice Payette went on to cite the Minister's comments at the time of the parliamentary debates to the effect that the adoption of the Act was intended to stem the steady growth in liability suits against municipalities relating to firefighting services since the Laurentide Motels decision. For Justice Payette, these objectives showed that the lawmaker had wished the Immunity to apply broadly to all firefighter interventions at the time of a fire.

Justice Payette concluded his analysis with a review of related or comparable legislation containing immunity provisions similar to the one in the Act. For example, the Act respecting pre-hospital emergency services5 provides for persons who act as first responders at the scene of a disaster or accident to have immunity. During the debates that led to the adoption of that act, the Minister of Health and Social Services had noted that firefighters were already "exempted from liability in the course of their work" under the Act and that it was necessary to harmonize the two acts since firefighters are often de facto first responders. Justice Payette therefore deduced from this statement that the Immunity granted under the Act must cover all the operations that a firefighter may be called upon to perform at the time of a fire, including clearing and surveillance of the fire's remains.

Arguments on Appeal

During the appeal, Lombard maintained that the expression "intervention" in section 47 of the Act should be construed narrowly, limited to situations where the alleged negligence was related directly to the four components of a fire safety intervention, as defined by the Minister in his statement of the general policies accompanying the Act6 (Orientations), namely, (1) the intervention timeline, (2) the intervention personnel, (3) the intervention equipment, and (4) the water supply needed. As no reference is made in the Orientations to clearing and searching for and extinguishing a fire's remains, the Immunity does not, according to Lombard, apply to these activities.

The City argued that the expression "intervention" should be given the broad interpretation frequently ascribed to it in the field of fire safety and consequently should encompass all operations performed by firefighters, including post-fire inspections. The UMQ attempted to place the passage of the Act in its context and, like the City, argued for a broad interpretation of the concept of an "intervention" by the firefighting services.

Court of Appeal ruling

In a brief, unanimous decision, the Court of Appeal dismisses Lombard's appeal and upholds Justice Payette's first instance judgment. According to the court, it is erroneous for Lombard to claim that the first judge based his interpretation of the Act solely on the parliamentary work and failed to take the Orientations into account. In fact, the reasons given by Justice Payette show an interpretation of the Act on several fronts, including a semantic analysis of the words used, a reference to similar statutes and an interpretation of the Orientations. Moreover, the court refuses to see an error in the first judge's decision to consider the expert evidence presented by the City regarding what generally constitutes an "intervention" during a fire. According to the court, the expert's interpretation was not considered by the first judge as an expression of the lawmaker's intent, but, rather, as a demonstration by the City of the steps and operations involved, day by day, in the various interventions of the firefighting services. Lastly, the court sets aside Lombard's argument holding that the clearing operations had to be, under sections 11 and 47 of the Act, specifically included in the Cover Plan in order to benefit from the Immunity, since, according to the court, a reading of those provisions makes it clear that section 11 does not apply to building fires.

This ruling by the Court of Appeal marks a major development in Quebec municipal law in that it establishes the effectiveness of the defence that the lawmaker has seen fit to introduce for the benefit of municipalities and RCMs that have duly adopted and implemented a fire safety cover plan. In light of this decision, it would now appear that plaintiffs wishing to hold such entities liable for the actions of their firefighters may succeed in doing so only if they are able to show that there was gross negligence or intentional wrongdoing or that the fire safety cover plan adopted by the municipality or RCM and approved by the Minister was not properly executed. This suggests that the Minister's stated objective at the time the Act was adopted, namely, to rein in lawsuits against public entities in relation to firefighting services, will be facilitated by the ruling.

Norton Rose Fulbright (Charles A. Foucreault) acted for the UMQ before the Court of Appeal in this matter.


1 Fire Safety Act, RSQ, c S-3.4 (the Act).

2 Compagnie canadienne d'assurances générales Lombard c St-Jérôme (Ville de), 2011 QCCS 1464 (CanLII), J.E. 2011-722 (S.C.), Justice Daniel W. Payette, inscription in appeal, 2011-04-29 (CA), 500-09-021653-118.

3 In accordance with article 452 CCP, the parties chose, during the proceedings, to ask the court to rule on this question of law alone, based on the facts and allegations set out in the proceedings, which they asked the court to consider as if proven.

4 Laurentide Motels Ltd. v Beauport (City), [1989] 1 SCR 705 (Laurentian Motels).

5 Act respecting pre-hospital emergency services, RSQ, c S-6.2.

6 As provided for in sections 135 and following of the Act, the Orientations are guidelines concerning fire prevention, personnel training, emergency preparedness and emergency response that are published in the Gazette officielle du Québec and that are to be considered by the RCM and other local authorities in the establishment and implementation of their fire safety cover plans.

Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP

Norton Rose Fulbright is a global legal practice. We provide the world's pre-eminent corporations and financial institutions with a full business law service. We have more than 3800 lawyers based in over 50 cities across Europe, the United States, Canada, Latin America, Asia, Australia, Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.

Recognized for our industry focus, we are strong across all the key industry sectors: financial institutions; energy; infrastructure, mining and commodities; transport; technology and innovation; and life sciences and healthcare.

Wherever we are, we operate in accordance with our global business principles of quality, unity and integrity. We aim to provide the highest possible standard of legal service in each of our offices and to maintain that level of quality at every point of contact.

Norton Rose Fulbright LLP, Norton Rose Fulbright Australia, Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP, Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa (incorporated as Deneys Reitz Inc) and Fulbright & Jaworski LLP, each of which is a separate legal entity, are members ('the Norton Rose Fulbright members') of Norton Rose Fulbright Verein, a Swiss Verein. Norton Rose Fulbright Verein helps coordinate the activities of the Norton Rose Fulbright members but does not itself provide legal services to clients.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions