Canada: Pétroles Global Et Le Calcul Des Amendes Infligées Aux Sociétés

Lorsqu'une organisation – y compris une société, une entreprise ou une société de personnes – est trouvée coupable d'une infraction criminelle, l'article 718.21 du
Code criminel (« C.cr. ») commande la prise en compte d'une dizaine de facteurs pour déterminer l'amende. Parmi ces facteurs figurent :

  • les profits tirés de l'infraction;
  • la viabilité économique de l'organisation et le maintien des emplois;
  • toute restitution ou indemnisation versée par l'organisation aux victimes; et
  • la prise de mesures anti-récidive par l'organisation.

Rarement, depuis leur entrée en vigueur en 2004, ces facteurs n'ont fait l'objet d'une analyse aussi détaillée que dans R. c. Pétroles Global inc., 2015 QCCS 1618, une décision récente de la Cour supérieure du Québec. Dans cette affaire, la Cour rejette les calculs purement arithmétiques pour leur préférer une approche multifactorielle, imposant à l'entreprise une amende de un million de dollars, et ce, même si l'infraction a été commise à l'insu de la haute direction et du conseil d'administration.

Contexte

En 2008, Pétroles Global, une entreprise de vente d'essence au détail, est accusée d'avoir comploté avec d'autres personnes pour en fixer le prix en violation de l'article 45 de la Loi sur la concurrence. En défense, elle argumente que l'infraction a été commise à l'insu de sa haute direction et, partant, qu'elle n'engage pas sa responsabilité criminelle. Malgré tout, l'accusée est citée à procès en 2012 par la Cour du Québec
(voir notre billet sur cette décision), puis déclarée coupable par la Cour supérieure du Québec en 2013 (permission d'appel devant la Cour d'appel du Québec accordée).

De retour en Cour supérieure pour débattre de sa sentence, Pétroles Global insiste sur le fait qu'aucun de ses actionnaires ni hauts dirigeants n'ont participé à l'infraction qui a permis d'engranger 645 000 dollars en profits illicites. La Couronne, pour sa part, demande une amende entre 2,2 et 2,6 millions de dollars.

Au final, c'est une peine de un million de dollars qui est infligée par la Cour, soit 10 % de la peine maximale qui était en vigueur à l'époque des faits en litige. Notons que la peine maximale, depuis, est passée de 10 à 25 millions de dollars.

Facteurs sentenciels spécifiques aux organisations

Dans ses motifs, la Cour rappelle que les facteurs spécifiques aux organisations s'appliquent en sus des principes généraux de détermination de la peine, comme la dissuasion générale et la gravité de l'infraction. Elle regroupe les facteurs propres aux organisations en trois catégories :

  • La turpitude morale : Cette catégorie comprend (i) le montant des gains réalisés grâce à l'infraction; (ii) le degré de complexité requis pour commettre l'infraction eu égard, par exemple, à la nature, à la durée et à l'étendue géographique de l'infraction; et (iii) le fait que l'organisation ait tenté de dissimuler une partie de ses actifs pour se montrer incapable de payer une amende ou de restituer les gains illicites. En l'espèce, la Cour souligne que « [l]a responsabilité pénale n'est pas moindre aux fins de la détermination de la peine parce que le conseil d'administration n'a pas autorisé l'infraction ou n'était pas au courant ».
  • L'intérêt public : C'est sous cette catégorie qu'est prise en compte la viabilité économique de l'organisation. Constatant en l'occurrence qu'il n'existe « aucun avantage socio-économique ni de politique générale à provoquer la faillite de
    Global », la Cour module les termes de paiement de l'amende en conséquence. Sont également considérés sous ce chef les frais relatifs aux enquêtes et aux poursuites supportés par les administrations publiques, ainsi que les peines déjà imposées à l'organisation et à ses agents.
  • La réhabilitation, la réadaptation et la récidive de l'organisation : Sont considérés sous cette catégorie (i) les déclarations de culpabilité et les pénalités pour des agissements similaires; (ii) les sanctions prises par l'organisation contre ses agents pour leur implication dans la perpétration de l'infraction; (iii) toute restitution ou indemnisation déjà versée par l'organisation aux victimes – y compris les sommes versées au terme de recours collectifs; et (iv) l'adoption de mesures anti-récidive.

En appliquant ces principes, la Cour se garde toutefois de s'inspirer de précédents où la peine a fait l'objet d'une suggestion commune, étant d'avis qu'ils sont de « peu
d'utilité ».

Rejet de l'approche économique

La Cour note que, d'un point de vue purement économique, le montant de l'amende devrait excéder les bénéfices escomptés de l'infraction afin d'avoir un véritable effet dissuasif. « Pour les économistes, précise-t-elle, une amende dissuasive optimale doit être une amende qui [est] équivalente au profit anticipé multiplié par la probabilité d'être pincé. »

La Cour refuse toutefois d'appliquer un « principe d'amende optimale au plan économique ». Selon elle, une approche purement économique, voire arithmétique, ne permettrait pas d'adapter la peine à la situation particulière de l'organisation accusée, ni de prendre en compte la « cascade de conséquences économiques » découlant des crimes économiques. De fait, le calcul de la peine doit également tenir compte de la
« perte sèche », c'est-à-dire la perte d'efficience économique qui découle d'une mauvaise répartition des ressources – une approche d'ailleurs préconisée en 2012 par la Cour fédérale dans l'affaire Maxzone Auto Parts ( voir notre billet sur cette décision).

Commentaires

Dans le contexte actuel d'accroissement des enquêtes et des poursuites criminelles contre des entreprises, la Cour supérieure apporte un éclairage utile sur les principes sentenciels applicables aux organisations. Cet éclairage réitère notamment que l'amende, en général, ne devrait pas compromettre la viabilité économique d'une organisation, sans pour autant écarter expressément la possibilité de le faire dans les cas où, par exemple, l'organisation n'aurait aucune ou peu de valeur socio-économique (sur ce sujet, voir l'arrêt de la Cour d'appel de l'Ontario dans Metron Construction Corporation aux paragraphes 103-110).

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