RJR -- MacDonald Inc. v. Canada (Attorney General) [1994] 1 S.C.R. 311: Interlocutory motions to stay implementation of regulations pending final decision on appeals and to delay implementation if appeals dismissed -- Leave to appeal granted shortly after applications to stay heard -- Whether the applications for relief from compliance with regulations should be granted -- Tobacco Products Control Act,

 Present: Lamer C.J. and La Forest, L'Heureux-Dubé, Sopinka, Gonthier, Cory, McLachlin, Iacobucci and Major JJ.


Practice -- Interlocutory motions to stay implementation of regulations pending final decision on appeals and to delay implementation if appeals dismissed -- Leave to appeal granted shortly after applications to stay heard -- Whether the applications for relief from compliance with regulations should be granted -- Tobacco Products Control Act, S.C. 1988, c. 20, ss. 3, 4 to 8, 9, 11 to 16, 17(f), 18. -- Tobacco Products Control Regulations, amendment, SOR/93-389 -- Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, ss. 1, 2(b), 24(1) --Rules of the Supreme Court of Canada, SOR/83-74, s. 27 -- Supreme Court Act, R.S.C., 1985, c. S-26, s. 65.1.

The Tobacco Products Control Act regulates the advertisement of tobacco products and the health warnings which must be placed upon those products. Both applicants successfully challenged the Act's constitutional validity in the Quebec Superior Court on the grounds that it was ultra vires Parliament and that it violates the right to freedom of expression in s. 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Court of Appeal ordered the suspension of enforcement until judgment was rendered on the Act's validity but declined to order a stay of the coming into effect of the Act until 60 days following a judgment validating the Act. The majority ultimately found the legislation constitutional.

The Tobacco Products Control Regulations, amendment, would cause the applicants to incur major expense in altering their packaging and these expenses would be irrecoverable should the legislation be found unconstitutional. Before a decision on applicants' leave applications to this Court in the main actions had been made, the applicants brought these motions for stay pursuant to s. 65.1 of the Supreme Court Act, or, in the event that leave was granted, pursuant to r. 27 of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Canada. In effect, the applicants sought to be released from any obligation to comply with the new packaging requirements until the disposition of the main actions. They also requested that the stays be granted for a period of 12 months from the dismissal of the leave applications or from a decision of this Court confirming the validity of Tobacco Products Control Act.

This Court heard applicants' motions on October 4 and granted leave to appeal the main action on October 14. At issue here was whether the applications for relief from compliance with the Tobacco Products Control Regulations, amendment should be granted. A preliminary question was raised as to this Court's jurisdiction to grant the relief requested by the applicants.

Held: The applications should be dismissed.

The powers of the Supreme Court of Canada to grant relief in this kind of proceeding are contained in s. 65.1 of the Supreme Court of Canada Act and r. 27 of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Canada.

The words "other relief" in r. 27 of the Supreme Court Rules are broad enough to permit the Court to defer enforcement of regulations that were not in existence when the appeal judgment was rendered. It can apply even though leave to appeal may not yet be granted. In interpreting the language of the rule, regard should be had to its purpose: to facilitate the "bringing of cases" before the Court "for the effectual execution and working of this Act". To achieve its purpose the rule can neither be limited to cases in which leave to appeal has already been granted nor be interpreted narrowly to apply only to an order stopping or arresting execution of the Court's process by a third party or freezing the judicial proceeding which is the subject matter of the judgment in appeal.

Section 65.1 of the Supreme Court Act was adopted not to limit the Court's powers under r. 27 but to enable a single judge to exercise the jurisdiction to grant stays in circumstances in which, before the amendment, a stay could be granted by the Court. It should be interpreted as conferring the same broad powers as are included in r. 27. The Court, pursuant to both s. 65.1 and r. 27, can not only grant a stay of execution and of proceedings in the traditional sense but also make any order that preserves matters between the parties in a state that will, as far as possible, prevent prejudice pending resolution by the Court of the controversy, so as to enable the Court to render a meaningful and effective judgment. The Court must be able to intervene not only against the direct dictates of the judgment but also against its effects. The Court therefore must have jurisdiction to enjoin conduct on the part of a party acting in reliance on the judgment which, if carried out, would tend to negate or diminish the effect of the judgment of this Court.

Jurisdiction to grant the relief requested by the applicants exists even if the applicants' requests for relief are for "suspension" of the regulation rather than "exemption" from it. To hold otherwise would be inconsistent with Manitoba (Attorney General) v. Metropolitan Stores (MTS) Ltd. which established that the distinction between "suspension" and "exemption" cases is made only after jurisdiction has been otherwise established. If jurisdiction under s. 65.1 of the Act and r. 27 were wanting, jurisdiction would be found in s. 24(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A Charter remedy should not be defeated because of a deficiency in the ancillary procedural powers of the Court to preserve the rights of the parties pending a final resolution of constitutional rights.

The three-part American Cyanamid test (adopted in Canada in Manitoba (Attorney General) v. Metropolitan Stores (MTS) Ltd.) should be applied to applications for interlocutory injunctions and as well for stays in both private law and Charter cases.

At the first stage, an applicant for interlocutory relief in a Charter case must demonstrate a serious question to be tried. Whether the test has been satisfied should be determined by a motions judge on the basis of common sense and an extremely limited review of the case on the merits. The fact that an appellate court has granted leave in the main action is, of course, a relevant and weighty consideration, as is any judgment on the merits which has been rendered, although neither is necessarily conclusive of the matter. A motions court should only go beyond a preliminary investigation into the merits when the result of the interlocutory motion will in effect amount to a final determination of the action, or when the constitutionality of a challenged statute can be determined as a pure question of law. Instances of this sort will be exceedingly rare. Unless the case on the merits is frivolous or vexatious, or the constitutionality of the statute is a pure question of law, a judge on a motion for relief must, as a general rule, consider the second and third stages of the Metropolitan Stores test.

At the second stage the applicant is required to demonstrate that irreparable harm will result if the relief is not granted. `Irreparable' refers to the nature of the harm rather than its magnitude. In Charter cases, even quantifiable financial loss relied upon by an applicant may be considered irreparable harm so long as it is unclear that such loss could be recovered at the time of a decision on the merits.

The third branch of the test, requiring an assessment of the balance of inconvenience to the parties, will normally determine the result in applications involving Charter rights. A consideration of the public interest must be taken into account in assessing the inconvenience which it is alleged will be suffered by both parties. These public interest considerations will carry less weight in exemption cases than in suspension cases. When the nature and declared purpose of legislation is to promote the public interest, a motions court should not be concerned whether the legislation has in fact this effect. It must be assumed to do so. In order to overcome the assumed benefit to the public interest arising from the continued application of the legislation, the applicant who relies on the public interest must demonstrate that the suspension of the legislation would itself provide a public benefit.

As a general rule, the same principles would apply when a government authority is the applicant in a motion for interlocutory relief. However, the issue of public interest, as an aspect of irreparable harm to the interests of the government, will be considered in the second stage. It will again be considered in the third stage when harm to the applicant is balanced with harm to the respondent including any harm to the public interest established by the latter.

Here, the application of these principles to the facts required that the applications for stay be dismissed.

The observation of the Quebec Court of Appeal that the case raised serious constitutional issues and this Court's decision to grant leave to appeal clearly indicated that these cases raise serious questions of law.

Although compliance with the regulations would require a significant expenditure and, in the event of their being found unconstitutional, reversion to the original packaging would require another significant outlay, monetary loss of this nature will not usually amount to irreparable harm in private law cases. However, where the government is the unsuccessful party in a constitutional claim, a plaintiff will face a much more difficult task in establishing constitutional liability and obtaining monetary redress. The expenditures which the new regulations require will therefore impose irreparable harm on the applicants if these motions are denied but the main actions are successful on appeal.

Among the factors which must be considered in order to determine whether the granting or withholding of interlocutory relief would occasion greater inconvenience are the nature of the relief sought and of the harm which the parties contend they will suffer, the nature of the legislation which is under attack, and where the public interest lies. Although the required expenditure would impose economic hardship on the companies, the economic loss or inconvenience can be avoided by passing it on to purchasers of tobacco products. Further, the applications, since they were brought by two of the three companies controlling the Canadian tobacco industry, were in actual fact for a suspension of the legislation, rather than for an exemption from its operation. The public interest normally carries greater weight in favour of compliance with existing legislation. The weight given is in part a function of the nature of the legislation and in part a function of the purposes of the legislation under attack. The government passed these regulations with the intention of protecting public health and furthering the public good. When the government declares that it is passing legislation in order to protect and promote public health and it is shown that the restraints which it seeks to place upon an industry are of the same nature as those which in the past have had positive public benefits, it is not for a court on an interlocutory motion to assess the actual benefits which will result from the specific terms of the legislation. The applicants, rather, must offset these public interest considerations by demonstrating a more compelling public interest in suspending the application of the legislation. The only possible public interest in the continued application of the current packaging requirements, however, was that the price of cigarettes for smokers would not increase. Any such increase would not be excessive and cannot carry much weight when balanced against the undeniable importance of the public interest in health and in the prevention of the widespread and serious medical problems directly attributable to smoking.

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