Dec 1, 2014

Roncarelli v. Duplessis

Roncarelli v. Duplessis, [1959] SCR 121

Facts: By-laws passed by towns and municipalities made it an offence to distribute literature without a licence. The intention was to eradicate the distribution of Jehovah's Witnesses' pamphlets. This led to an exponential amount of arrests of Jehovah's Witnesses who Roncarelli arranged bail for. As a response, Duplessis, the Premier of Quebec, contacted the Quebec Liquor Commission ("Commission") to revoke Roncarelli's present licence and to disqualify him from obtaining future licences. Action for damages sought by Roncarelli against Duplessis for wrongful revocation of a licence to sell liquor (which led to the closing of Roncarelli's restaurant business).

Issue: Is the use of executive power to deliberately destroy Roncarelli's business valid?

Decision: No. (SCC decided in favour of Roncarelli.)

Reasoning: The Commission has the right to grant and revoke liquor licences at its discretion. However, the decision must be made by referring to relevant considerations which serve the purposes of the statute or the administration. In this case, Duplessis' intention to punish Roncarelli for acting contrary to state interests was not a valid reason to revoke his licence and destroy his means of livelihood.

Ratio: Discretion is not unchecked. No administration/executive an exercise unlimited arbitrary power for any purpose. Exercising an unchallengeable right (i.e. to post bail) irrelevant to the legislation is beyond conferred discretion.