Quebec tax body alleges it was deprived of statutory right of appeal
The Quebec Court of Appeal rejected the Agence du revenu du Québec’s challenge of the Court of Quebec’s acquittals of an accused individual on five counts under the Tax Administration Act, CQLR c A-6.002.
The acquittals were recorded in the minutes of the trial. The appellant, which was Quebec’s government agency responsible for collecting taxes, later discovered that the record could not be fully transcribed since it was incomplete. Substantial portions of the evidence and the reasons for judgment were unavailable for purposes of appeal. The Court of Quebec was unaware of these deficiencies at the time.
The appellant acknowledged that it did not try to check with the trial judge whether reasons were available. Despite this, it appealed against the acquittals and alleged that the judge made specific legal errors.
The Quebec Superior Court dismissed this appeal. It held that the protection against double jeopardy under s. 11(h) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms prevented the parties from proceeding with a second trial.
The appellant appealed with leave against the Superior Court’s decision. It argued that the decision deprived it of the statutory right of appeal under s. 74 of the Tax Administration Act.
Challenge from acquittals fails
In Agence du revenu du Québec c. Chopra, 2023 QCCA 1465, the Quebec Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal without costs.
The appellate court accepted that it had jurisdiction over this matter because the appellant brought the appeal within the applicable time limits. The appeal would succeed if the appellant could show that the Quebec Superior Court erred in dismissing the appeal from the Court of Quebec’s decision based on double jeopardy.
First, the appellate court ruled that it could not decide on the merits of the appellant’s grounds of appeal because the incompleteness of the trial record prevented it from reliably identifying any errors on the part of the Court of Quebec.
There could be no appeal under s. 281(1) of the Code of Penal Procedure, CQLR c C-25.1 because a complete record had not been preserved due to mechanical difficulties not attributable to either the trial judge or the parties, the appellate court held.
Without a complete record, the appeal could proceed only by exception under s. 281(2) if, upon application, the Superior Court found it preferable to hear the appeal via a new trial, the appellate court said.
The appellant accepted that it did not file any such application. However, it alleged that there was a serious possibility of prejudice because of the impairment of its right of automatic appeal against the Court of Quebec’s decision regarding provincial regulatory offences.
The appellate court rejected this argument. Without any way to establish a serious possibility of prejudice, a record’s deficiency due to a technical mistake not attributable to the judge or the parties was an insufficient reason to expose the accused, through a new trial, to conviction and sanction for offences of which they were already acquitted, given that the appellant failed to show errors vitiating the acquittals, the appellate court explained.
The potential prejudice to the accused of a new trial’s risk of conviction and sanction displaced the possible prejudice to the prosecution of the frustration of its right of appeal due to a deficient record not attributable to either the judge or the parties, the appellate court decided.
The principles of protection against double jeopardy were not neutral or equal between parties and were instead applicable in favour of the person charged with an offence, the appellate court noted.
Lastly, the appellant argued that the absence of a record of the Court of Quebec’s reasons for judgment showed that these reasons were inadequate.
The appellate court also rejected this argument. It agreed with the Superior Court’s finding that reasons indeed existed, given that the appellant could state grounds of appeal. The appellate court noted that the appellant could not allege that the judge’s reasons were unintelligible since it failed to attribute the deficiency to the judge’s work.