Canada: Les Parties Privées Ne Sont Pas Responsables Des Dépens Liés Aux Litiges D'Intérét Public

Last Updated: August 24 2015
Article by Tim Bottomer and Rick Williams

Most Read Contributor in Canada, November 2017

De plus en plus souvent, les tribunaux résistent aux tentatives des tiers, en particulier les organisations non gouvernementales en matière de protection de l'environnement (ONGE), d'intervenir dans les processus de délivrance de permis et les recours en contrôle judiciaire auxquels elles ne sont pas parties prenantes et dans le cadre desquels elles n'apportent aucune expertise particulière. Une décision récente de la Cour suprême de la Colombie Britannique, soit Gagne c. Sharp, illustre une fois de plus cette tendance. Dans ce dossier, une ONGE a une fois de plus essayé de faire assumer ses dépens par une personne morale en invoquant le fait qu'elle agissait dans « l'intérêt public ».

CONTEXTE

Dans la décision Gagne, plusieurs particuliers et une ONGE ont demandé qu'on reconnaisse leur qualité pour agir devant l'Environmental Appeal Board de la Colombie-Britannique (l'« EAB »), afin de contester une modification de permis qui avait été accordée à Rio Tinto Alcan Inc. L'EAB a refusé la demande des requérants parce qu'ils n'étaient pas des personnes lésées au sens du paragraphe 100(1) de l'Environmental Management Act, S.B.C. 2003, ch. 53 (l'« EMA »). Les requérants ont demandé le contrôle judiciaire de cette décision, qui a été renvoyée à l'EAB pour réexamen. Une fois encore, l'EAB a rejeté la demande des requérants. Cette deuxième décision de l'EAB a fait l'objet d'une demande de contrôle judiciaire. Cette seconde demande de contrôle judiciaire a été rejetée et il a été ordonné aux parties d'assumer elles mêmes leurs dépens respectifs associés à cette seconde demande.

Cependant, la question des dépens liés à la première demande de contrôle judiciaire est demeurée en suspens. Les requérants recherchaient des dépens spéciaux à titre de plaideur d'intérêt public. Il est intéressant de noter que, contrairement à ce qu'on observe pour la plupart des demandes portant sur des dépens associés à un litige d'intérêt public, les requérants ont demandé que ces dépens soient imputés uniquement à Rio Tinto, soit une personne morale, plutôt qu'au procureur général de la Colombie-Britannique ou à l'EAB, soit les autres parties concerné pour l'octroi de dépens liés aux litiges d'intérêt public. Rio Tinto alléguait que les questions visées par la demande de contrôle judiciaire n'étaient ni nouvelles ni d'intérêt public et qu'aucun nouveau motif juridique n'a été tranché, car la question avait été renvoyée à l'EAB uniquement pour des raisons d'équité procédurale. Rio Tinto soutenait par ailleurs que sa capacité financière à assumer les dépens de l'instance n'était pas un facteur déterminant. Invoquant la décision Chief Mountain v. Canada (Attorney General), 2012 BCSC 1152, Rio Tinto a soutenu que, parce que les requérants étaient des particuliers et une ONGE qui défendent leurs propres intérêts, le fardeau qui incombait aux requérants était même plus important que le lourd fardeau déjà applicable en vertu de l'arrêt Adams.

LA DÉCISION

Dans une décision rendue par le juge MacKenzie, la Cour suprême de la Colombie-Britannique a rejeté la demande des requérants (2015 BCSC 154).

Premièrement, et de façon catégorique, la Cour a conclu que les requérants n'avaient pas droit aux dépens ordinaires parce que même s'ils avaient partiellement obtenu gain de cause sur une question portant sur l'équité procédurale lors de la première demande de contrôle judiciaire, ils n'avaient pas obtenu gain de cause concernant le critère statutaire lié à la qualité d'agir et la norme de révision. Pour reprendre les termes du critère statutaire énoncé dans la règle 14-9 [Supreme Court & Civil Rules] de la Colombie-Britannique, les requérants n'avaient pas [TRADUCTION] « en bonne partie eu gain de cause ».

Deuxièmement, la Cour a jugé que même si les requérants avaient obtenu gain de cause, ils n'auraient pas eu droit à des dépens spéciaux. Il convient de noter que la Cour est parvenue à cette conclusion même si elle convenait, comme les requérants, que la société Rio Tinto exerçait un rôle prépondérant dans le cadre du litige, n'a [TRADUCTION] « pas vraiment été prise entre deux feux » et avait une capacité de paiement largement supérieure. La Cour a réaffirmé que les dépens spéciaux liés aux litiges d'intérêt public ne devaient être accordés que dans des situations exceptionnelles et a censément insisté sur l'importance du fait que la requête faisait suite à des erreurs imputables à l'EAB, et non pas à Rio Tinto. Par ailleurs, la Cour n'était pas convaincue que les questions pour lesquelles les requérants avaient obtenu gain de cause étaient suffisamment nouvelles pour justifier une ordonnance exceptionnelle relative à des dépens spéciaux.

RÉPERCUSSIONS

Même si cette décision ne ferme pas la porte à l'imposition de dépens spéciaux à des parties privées dans le cadre de litige où des tiers plaident l'intérêt public, elle appuie clairement l'argument selon lequel les dépens de cette nature ne devraient être accordés que dans des cas les plus exceptionnels.

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