Harvey v. New Brunswick (Attorney General) 876  2 S.C.R. : Right to be qualified for membership in legislature -- Member of provincial legislature convicted of illegal practice and expelled from legislature pursuant to provincial elections legislation --Legislation also disqualifying anyone convicted of illegal practice from holding electoral office for five years -- Whether disqualifications infringe s. 3 of Charter -- If so, whether infringement justified under s. 1 -- Canadian Charter
Present: Lamer C.J. and La Forest, L'Heureux-Dubé, Sopinka, Gonthier, Cory, McLachlin, Iacobucci and Major JJ.
ON APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF APPEAL FOR NEW BRUNSWICK
Constitutional law -- Charter of Rights -- Right to be qualified for membership in legislature -- Member of provincial legislature convicted of illegal practice and expelled from legislature pursuant to provincial elections legislation --Legislation also disqualifying anyone convicted of illegal practice from holding electoral office for five years -- Whether disqualifications infringe s. 3 of Charter -- If so, whether infringement justified under s. 1 -- Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, ss. 1, 3 -- Elections Act, R.S.N.B. 1973, c. E-3, s. 119(c).
Constitutional law -- Charter of Rights -- Cruel and unusual treatment or punishment -- Member of provincial legislature convicted of illegal practice and expelled from legislature pursuant to provincial elections legislation -- Legislation also disqualifying anyone convicted of illegal practice from holding electoral office for five years -- Whether disqualifications infringe s. 12 of Charter -- Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, s. 12 -- Elections Act, R.S.N.B. 1973, c. E-3, s. 119(c).
The appellant was elected to the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly in 1991. Following that election he was convicted of committing an illegal practice under the Elections Act and was expelled from the legislature under s. 119(c). He had induced a 16-year-old female to vote in the election, knowing that she was not eligible to vote. The trial judge allowed the appellant's constitutional challenge in part, holding that ss. 119(a) and 119(c) of the Elections Act violated the appellant's rights guaranteed by s. 3 of the Charter. Section 119(a) disqualifies anyone convicted of an illegal practice from voting in an election for a period of five years. The trial judge further held that s. 119(a) and the first part of s. 119(c), which prevented the appellant from seeking re-election for a period of five years, were not justified under s. 1 of the Charter, but that the second portion of s. 119(c), which required a sitting member to vacate his seat on conviction for a corrupt or illegal practice, was a reasonable limit under s. 1. The judge then proceeded to sever the invalid provisions of s. 119 from the remainder. The Court of Appeal dismissed the appellant's appeal and, in a majority decision, allowed the cross-appeal with respect to the trial judge's finding that the five-year disqualification provision of s. 119(c) was unconstitutional.
Held: The appeal should be dismissed.
Per La Forest, Sopinka, Gonthier, Cory, Iacobucci and Major JJ.: There is no question that the appellant's actions amounted to an attack on the integrity of the electoral process which is at the heart of a free and democratic society and constituted a breach of trust deserving of censure. Given that the parties have chosen not to ground their argument on the basis that the expulsion and disqualification are privileges of the Legislative Assembly, and given that there were no submissions by any party on the point, it will be assumed that the provisions of s. 119(c) are subject to the Charter. The provisions of s. 119(c) are prima facie unconstitutional as violating the appellant's rights under s. 3 of the Charter. While the English version of s. 3, which provides for a "right . . . to be qualified for membership" in a legislative assembly, is somewhat ambiguous, the French version is straightforward and indicates that the right to be a candidate and to sit as a member of Parliament or a legislative assembly should be read in a broad manner. In interpreting the right to vote under s. 3, this Court, and Canadian courts in general, have taken the approach that the justification for limitations on the right must be grounded in s. 1 of the Charter, and there is no justification in the wording for taking a different approach to the right to stand for election and become a member of Parliament or a legislative assembly.
Section 119(c) of the Elections Act is a justified infringement upon the right to be qualified for membership in the Legislative Assembly under s. 1 of the Charter. The primary goal of the impugned legislation, which is to maintain and enhance the integrity of the electoral process, is always of pressing and substantial concern in any society that purports to operate in accordance with the tenets of a free and democratic society. There is also a rational connection between the means employed in s. 119(c) and the section's objective. The requirement that an elected MLA vacate his seat on being convicted of a corrupt or illegal election offence logically furthers the objective of preserving the integrity of the election process, and the five-year disqualification acts as a strong deterrent and helps to promote confidence in the electoral system. Section 119(c) is not arbitrary in that it applies only to a specified group of individuals who are convicted of specified offences. That part of s. 119(c) that requires convicted individuals to vacate their legislative seat is an appropriate response and in no way overreaches the target when the objective of maintaining the integrity of the electoral process is considered. The imposition of the five-year disqualification also meets the minimal impairment test. In settling on a five-year disqualification the legislature has ensured that the appellant is ineligible to run in the next general election. In addition, a five-year disqualification provides for a time of cleansing, allowing the integrity of the electoral process to be renewed both in real terms and in the mind of the electorate. Finally, the effects of s. 119(c) are proportional to its objective of ensuring, preserving, and protecting the integrity of the electoral process, subject to the caveat that the five-year disqualification would cease to apply if a member's conviction was overturned on appeal.
The provisions of s. 119(c) do not amount to cruel and unusual punishment contrary to s. 12 of the Charter. Even if the disqualifications are properly classified as "punishment", a given punishment is cruel and unusual only if it is so excessive as to outrage standards of decency or if it is grossly disproportionate to the offence. On the basis of these tests, the disqualifications imposed by s. 119(c) do not violate s. 12 of the Charter, either with regard to the particular offence committed by the appellant or with regard to the range of offences under the Elections Act to which s. 119(c) can apply.
Since no appeal was taken in respect of the trial judge's ruling that s. 119(a) is unconstitutional, that ruling must stand but the provision can be severed from the remainder of the section.
Per Lamer C.J.: Since the parliamentary privilege at issue is embodied in, or being exercised pursuant to, legislation enacted by the legislature, the Charter clearly applies in this case and the appeal should be dismissed for the reasons given by La Forest J.
Per L'Heureux-Dubé and McLachlin JJ.: The disqualification for office raised in this case falls within the historical privilege of the legislature and is hence immune from judicial review. Parliament and the legislatures of Canada have the power to regulate their procedures both inside and outside the legislative chamber. The preamble to the Constitution Act, 1867 affirms a parliamentary system of government, incorporating into the Canadian Constitution the right of Parliament and the legislatures to regulate their own affairs. It also incorporates the notion of the separation of powers, which precludes the courts from trenching on the internal affairs of the other branches of government. Because parliamentary privilege enjoys constitutional status it is not subject to the Charter. The necessary reconciliation of parliamentary privilege and s. 3 of the Charter is achieved by interpreting the democratic guarantees of s. 3 in a purposive way. The purpose of the democratic guarantees in the Charter must be taken to be the preservation of democratic values inherent in the existing Canadian Constitution, including the fundamental constitutional right of Parliament and the legislatures to regulate their own proceedings. Since express words would be required to overthrow such an important constitutional principle as parliamentary privilege, s. 3 of the Charter must be read as being consistent with parliamentary privilege. This does not leave s. 3 without meaning, however, since it still operates to prevent citizens from being disqualified from holding office on grounds which fall outside the rules by which Parliament and the legislatures conduct their business, such as race and gender. The courts may review an act or ruling of the legislature to determine whether it properly falls within the domain of parliamentary privilege. If it does not, they may proceed with Charter review. If it does, they must leave the matter to the legislature.
Expulsion from the legislature of members deemed unfit is a proper exercise of parliamentary privilege. It is clear that had the New Brunswick legislature simply expelled the appellant, that decision would fall squarely within its parliamentary privilege and the courts would have no power to review it. Disqualification may be argued to fall within parliamentary privilege on two grounds: first, as a means of making expulsion effective; and second, as a privilege in its own right. Disqualification is necessary to prevent the person from simply seeking re-election in the first available by-election, often in the very riding vacated by the expulsion order. Disqualification may also fall within parliamentary privilege in its own right. It serves the same purposes as expulsion for acts committed outside the legislature, which has long been recognized as privileged. The legislature should be permitted to determine in advance of the person taking office whether he or she is fit to serve, rather than being required to wait until the person assumes office. Since the appellant's disqualification was a legitimate exercise of parliamentary privilege, that disqualification must stand.
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