On March 19, 2010, the Quebec Court of Appeal upheld a decision rendered by the Quebec Superior Court, unconditionally absolving Mr. Daniel Drouin, the accused, of a price-fixing charge. The Court of Appeal dismissed the Crown’s application for leave to appeal on the basis that the lower court judge had not made a reviewable error which would merit judicial review.
In the original Superior Court decision, the court had ordered an absolute discharge. The accused had pleaded guilty to a charge brought against him for fixing the price of gas in the city of Victoriaville in 2005, when he was the supervisor of Les Pétroles Cadrin Inc. In his capacity as supervisor, the accused was responsible for setting the price of gas sold by the service station. The price-fixing charge was brought against the accused following an investigation by the Competition Bureau.
The Superior Court considered several factors: the accused had not benefitted from the crime, he was not the instigator, his involvement was over a short period of time compared to his co-accused, he regretted his actions, and a criminal charge would have a negative impact on his career. Furthermore, he had made a $10,000 donation to a non-profit organization in the hope of obtaining an absolute discharge. According to the Court, it would be superfluous and inappropriate to impose a fine since his donation had achieved the objective of deterrence. The Court concluded that an absolute discharge would not be contrary to the public interest.
The Crown’s appeal was based on the intervention of counsel for the accused during the lower court judge's deliberation. The intervention consisted of a letter from counsel for the accused advising the Court of the $10,000 donation. The Court determined that although the method followed by counsel of the accused did not conform to rules of procedure (as he should have asked for a reopening of the hearing), the integrity of the hearing was not compromised.
With respect to the sentence, the Court of Appeal stated that its power of intervention was limited. The Crown argued that the absolute discharge was not available in the circumstances because it did not take into account the principle of parity and the objectives of denunciation and deterrence. The Court of Appeal cited earlier authority to the effect that the principle of parity does not preclude disparity where warranted by the circumstances.
The Court of Appeal therefore dismissed the Crown’s application for leave to appeal.