In the recent decision Biondi c. Syndicat des cols bleus
regroupés de Montréal (SCFP-301),
the Superior Court of Quebec (Court) ordered the Syndicat des cols
bleus regroupés de Montréal (Union) to pay
C$2-million in punitive damages to the plaintiff class. Although
Quebec courts can award punitive damages when expressly provided
for in a statute, this remains an exceptional measure and courts
are reluctant to award significant amounts under this head of
damages. That being said, class actions often lead to claims for
punitive damages, the amount of which can be significant given the
junction of all class members' claims in a single
This decision is a chapter in the judicial saga resulting from
the delay from the City of Montréal (City) to de-ice
sidewalks of downtown Montréal during the illegal strike of
the members of the Union in the winter of 2004. The class action
joined the claims of victims who fell on icy sidewalks in the City
during the illegal strike.
In 2010, the Court allowed the action and ordered the City and
the Union to compensate the victims for the damages they suffered.
In addition, it ordered the Union to pay the plaintiff class a sum
of C$2-million in punitive damages. In 2013, the Court of Appeal of
Quebec (Court of Appeal) confirmed the judgment as to the liability
of the City and the Union, but overturned the order for punitive
damages to enable their re-evaluation when the amount of
compensatory damages is known.
When the amount of the individual claims was determined, the
plaintiff class returned to the Court to seek an order that the
Union pay C$2.5-million in punitive damages. The plaintiff class
contended that the amount should be increased from the 2010
decision because the amount obtained in compensatory damages turned
out to be lower than expected and the subsequent actions of the
Union showed that the previous award did not have the desired
REASONS FOR JUDGEMENT
The Court once again confirmed that the Union must pay
C$2-million in punitive damages, concluding that the assessment
made previously was appropriate. Indeed, the order for punitive
damages was made under sections 1 and 49 of the Charter of
Human Rights and Freedoms (Charter) given the breach
of the victims' right to security and inviolability of their
person. The Court applied the evaluation criteria for punitive
damages set out by the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC), in Cinar Corporation c. Robinson, in the
context of an action for copyright infringement. The Court
considered the following elements in its analysis:
The gravity of the fault
The importance of the damages caused by it
The Union's capacity to pay
The fact that the amount of compensatory damages turned out to
be lower than expected at the time of the first judgment in
This decision illustrates the scale that punitive damages can
reach in the context of class actions. It demonstrates that courts
will not hesitate to grant substantial punitive damages, where
otherwise appropriate, to sanction serious and intentional
violations of a right protected by the Charter, or in
cases of an intentional violation of another law providing for the
award of punitive damages, such as the Consumer Protection
Act. Here, the Court concluded that the behavior of the Union
was "conduct that violates the basic rules of life in
society" and that its recklessness was "serious,
deliberate and antisocial", which justified the substantial
amount of punitive damages. Class actions are changing the
landscape of amounts awarded as punitive damages in
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