Canada: Interdiction De Passer Des Contrats Publics : Un Premier Renversement D’Une Décision De L’AMF

La Cour supérieure du Québec a récemment cassé, dans Terra Location inc. c. Autorité des marchés financiers, 2015 QCCS 509, un refus de l'Autorité des marchés financiers (l'« AMF ») d'octroyer une autorisation préalable à l'obtention d'un contrat public. Il s'agit d'une première depuis l'entrée en vigueur de la Loi sur l'intégrité en matière de contrats publics (la « LICP ») en décembre 2012 ( voir notre billet sur le sujet). La décision rappelle que l'AMF, avant de conclure qu'une entreprise ne satisfait pas aux mesures d'intégrité de la LICP, doit d'abord lui divulguer les renseignements sur lesquels elle se fonde. Le défaut de ce faire constitue une entorse à l'équité procédurale qui vicie le processus décisionnel de l'AMF et, partant, « doit immanquablement mener à l'annulation de [sa] décision ».

Contexte

En mai 2013, l'entreprise de construction Terra Location inc. (« Terra ») présente à l'AMF une demande d'autorisation de conclure des contrats avec les organismes publics. Elle reçoit neuf mois plus tard, en février 2014, un préavis de refus de l'AMF qui reproche à Terra, notamment, d'avoir fait affaire « avec des sous-traitants que Revenu Québec identifie comme étant des fournisseurs de factures de complaisance ». Terra nie d'emblée toute implication dans des manSuvres collusoires et, notant que le préavis est vague, demande à l'AMF des précisions sur les gestes reprochés ainsi que sur l'identité des sous-traitants en question.

Nonobstant les représentations de Terra, l'AMF rend en juin 2014 une décision finale rejetant la demande d'autorisation de Terra. La décision est fondée sur le pouvoir discrétionnaire de l'AMF de refuser une demande d'autorisation lorsque l'entreprise demanderesse « ne satisfait pas aux exigences élevées d'intégrité auxquelles le public est en droit de s'attendre d'une partie à un contrat public ou à un sous-contrat public ».

Terra porte la décision de l'AMF en révision judiciaire devant la Cour supérieure. Elle demande à la Cour d'annuler la décision de l'AMF au motif, entre autres, que le défaut de communiquer l'identité des sous-traitants en question l'a privée de son droit à une défense pleine et entière.

Devoir de transparence décisionnelle

Faisant droit à la demande de révision judiciaire, la Cour supérieure rappelle que le devoir d'équité procédurale exige de l'AMF qu'elle divulgue les renseignements qui sous-tendent ses décisions. Le refus d'accorder une autorisation préalable de passer des contrats publics n'échappe pas à la règle, d'autant plus que l'allégation de fausse facturation représentait en l'occurrence « une accusation sérieuse [mettant] directement en cause l'intégrité de [Terra] et de ses administrateurs ». Selon la Cour :

[60] On pourra à tout le moins retenir qu'un organisme chargé d'exiger et de contrôler des objectifs élevés d'intégrité, tel que spécifiés par la loi, doit impérativement agir avec la plus grande prudence et dans un souci constant du respect des règles de justice naturelle et d'équité procédurale, qui sont inhérentes à l'exécution de son mandat.

La Cour conclut que l'information parcellaire divulguée par l'AMF ne permettait pas à Terra de présenter une défense pleine et entière. Le défaut de l'AMF de préciser ses allégations constituait ainsi « une contravention élémentaire et évidente aux règles de justice naturelle ». Le processus décisionnel étant vicié par l'entorse à l'équité procédurale, la Cour annule la décision et renvoie le dossier à l'AMF.

Commentaire

L'affaire Terra Location jette un certain éclairage sur le processus décisionnel de l'AMF dans le cadre de l'administration du régime d'autorisation préalable. Il est notable en l'espèce que l'AMF avait fondé une partie de ses motifs sur la foi d'assertions formulées par l'Unité permanente anticorruption (l'« UPAC »). Or, ces assertions de l'UPAC avaient elles-mêmes été formulées sur la base de renseignements parcellaires obtenus auprès de Revenu Québec. L'action en révision judiciaire a permis d'établir que tant l'AMF que l'UPAC ignoraient l'identité des sous-traitants prétendument malhonnêtes avec lesquels Terra aurait soi-disant fait affaire.

Dans ce contexte, l'obligation d'équité procédurale prend toute son importance et la décision d'astreindre à une plus grande transparence le large pouvoir discrétionnaire de l'AMF d'opiner sur l'intégrité des entreprises est bienvenue.

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