Cour Municipale de Montréal

Administrative internal review of Statements of Offence (2012)

For many years, people who contest a Statement of Offence can submit to the Municipal Court explanations likely to demonstrate that this Statement is wrong and that it should not be sent for adjudication by a judge.

This procedure is particularly relevant when the citizen who received the Statement has since deceased or when the citizen has the parking meter receipt showing that he had indeed paid his parking fees at the time the Statement was issued.

Such an administrative review is important since it avoids useless encumbering of the Municipal Court Docket with files where there will clearly be an acquittal; it also saves citizens from the inconvenience related to going to Court.

In December 2012, many citizens requested our assistance because, despite the explanations and evidence they had submitted, the Court had just informed them that their case was being sent to trial.

In our investigation, we learned that, in all of these files, the Court had not conducted the usual administrative review or considered the proofs submitted by the citizens.

Following our interventions, Municipal Court managers proceeded to the administrative review of all files we submitted to them. In some of these cases, Statements were immediately withdrawn. In others, the referral to judicial adjudication was suspended and Court managers undertook that the file would be administratively reviewed.

They also undertook to proceed in the same manner with each similar file submitted by a citizen. Instructions were issued to customer service agents explaining how they should proceed, in all such cases.

Restriction of access to criminal files for people having obtained a pardon (2008)

Thanks to the Ombudsman de Montréal’s previous interventions, citizens who were acquitted or otherwise exonerated of a criminal accusation by Cour municipale de Montréal can now, under certain conditions, obtain that their computerized file be no longer accessible to the general public.

Furthermore, the Criminal Records Act prohibits access to the criminal files of people who were convicted but later obtained a pardon from the Minister. In such cases, the law is clear: it is forbidden to disclose or allow access to information contained in these pardon files.

In the scope of an investigation, the Ombudsman de Montréal noted that citizens going to Ville de Montréal’s archives were conducting their own research and had full access to the court dockets of Cour municipale de Montréal where older criminal files are kept, including those of persons benefiting from a ministerial pardon. In other words, any citizen could easily access information on certain criminal files which, by virtue of the law, should have been out of reach.

We intervened very quickly, therefore, with Cour municipale de Montréal for this situation to be corrected without delay. Following our intervention, a new internal rule was immediately implemented: the public no longer has access to these paper documents and researches are now done on request, by a City employee, so as to guarantee the respect of the legal obligations resulting from the Criminal Records Act.

Court costs (2007)

The citizen had contested a Statement of Offence which he had received under the Highway Safety Code. At trial, he was found guilty of a lesser offence (lower fine and less demerit points) but ordered to pay the court costs. The citizen submits that the judge would have mentioned that, given the lesser offence, it would cost him less.

When he received his Notice of Judgment, however, the court costs were such that the total amount to be paid was higher than the amount of the initial fine. The citizen submitted a complaint to the Ombudsman de Montréal to have these court costs cancelled.

The Ombudsman de Montréal has no power to quash any order of a Court of law, including an order to pay court costs: we are not a Court of appeal and we cannot intervene in any judicial process. Moreover, the amounts of court costs are clearly provided for in the Tariff of court costs in penal matters, a provincial legislation over which we have no jurisdiction. The most the Ombudsman de Montréal could do was to make an informal approach to remind the Cour municipale de Montréal judges the impact of the court costs they may order, especially when the fines at stake are minimal.

Postponement denied (2007)

Following serious injuries, a young man was unable to appear before the Cour municipale de Montréal, on the date he had been summoned to do so.

His mother notified the court of her son’s incapacity and she also sent a written request asking for the postponement of the hearing date. A few days later, however, her son received a Notice of issuance of a writ of seizure and a letter informing him that his driver’s license would be suspended by the SAAQ (Société d’assurance automobile du Québec). The citizen complained to the Ombudsman de Montréal.

For an unknown reason, there was no mention of the steps taken by the mother in her son’s file. Following the intervention of the Ombudsman de Montréal, the citizen provided evidence to the Cour municipale de Montréal of the request for postponement she had sent.

The court corrected the information in her son’s file and a new hearing date was set. The court also notified the SAAQ that it was no longer appropriate, for the time being, to suspend this man’s driver’s license.

Update of the Policy for restriction of access to information contained in the court’s computerized registers in criminal matters (2006)

A citizen submitted that the terms of the rules of the Policy for restricton of access to information contained in the court’s computerized registers in criminal matters were different and less favorable to citizens than the ones applied by Cour du Québec, in cases of exoneration by the court. This new policy had been introduced by Cour municipale de Montréal in 2006, following a Recommendation of the Ombudsman de Montréal.

The citizen emphasized that at Cour du Québec, a person exonerated of a criminal accusation could obtain that his file no longer be accessible to the public after the passing of 3 years following the date of the order of conditional discharge, whereas Cour municipale de Montréal was requesting 3 years following the end of the order. This different rule had had the effect that his request submitted at Cour municipale de Montréal, to limit access to his file, had been denied.

Our investigation confirmed that the delay concerned, which was previously the same as the one applied by Cour municipale de Montréal, had, in fact, been changed by Cour du Québec to make it “3 years following the date of the order”.

Following the intervention of the Ombudsman de Montréal, the managers of Cour municipale de Montréal accepted to modify their procedure as well.

They also undertook to revise the citizen’s initial request in light of this new delay, without him having to submit a new request.

His request has been accepted and the information regarding his file, contained in the computerized registers of Cour municipale de Montréal, is no longer accessible to the public.

Access to information contained in a penal file awaiting trial – Euthanasia of a dog (2006)

A citizen complained to the Ombudsman de Montréal to contest an order for the euthanasia of a dog who had attacked another dog.

The Statements of offence regarding these same events had been contested and the files were pending, before Cour municipale de Montréal.

Generally, information contained in a penal or criminal file awaiting trial is not available but, in order to investigate our file properly, we needed the information contained in this specific file.

The Ombudsman de Montréal discussed the matter at length with the Procureur de la couronne responsible of this penal case and, more particularly, she explained her legal right to obtain any information and documents she deems relevant, within the investigation.

Following these discussions, the Ombudsman de Montréal received all the information she had requested.

As to the merit of the file, the By-law concerning dog and animal control, R.R.V.M., c. C-10, provides that when a dog bites a person or another animal, the director can order that the dog may be euthanized, if he believes the animal represents a health or safety hazard for the public. In the present instance, the director’s decision had been based on a legal opinion and on a statistical evaluation of the risks of re-occurrence.

Since the Ombudsman could not conclude that the order was arbitrary or unreasonable, she did not issue any Recommendation against the contested order.

Access to the criminal case records of Cour municipale de Montréal (2004)

A citizen complained that several years after proceedings, his “criminal case file” remained publicly accessible, through the records of the Cour municipale de Montréal, even though acquitted of the charges brought against him.

Supported by an administrative directive in effect for provincial court records since 1998, this citizen requested Cour municipale de Montréal to bar public access to his case file, but his request was refused. He then asked the Ombudsman de Montréal to intervene.

The citizen contended that the fact that people could even find out that he had been accused of a criminal act was sufficient to cause serious harm to his reputation and impair his efforts to find employment.

Due to the intervention of the Ombudsman de Montréal, Cour municipale de Montréal agreed to remove the file of the citizen concerned from criminal court records.

The Ombudsman de Montréal pursued his petition to Cour municipale de Montréal and Recommended that, in all cases already covered by directive D-21, all the files of citizens acquitted or otherwise freed of criminal charges brought against them cease to be accessible to the general public, and this, automatically, upon expiration of certain predetermined reasonable delays.

The Cour municipale de Montréal accepted this Recommendation, in part, and committed to implement a procedure for the removal of files “upon request”, that came into effect in 2005.

The significant number of requests submitted and accepted, from year to year, confirms the importance of this measure. On December 31st, 2012, 3498 citizens had benefited from this restriction of access.

Mistaken identity (2004)

When he tried to cross Canadian Customs, a citizen was arrested because of an outstanding warrant for his arrest and imprisonment, due to the non-payment of an unpaid fine that had been issued by the Ville de Montréal. To avoid incarceration, he had to pay the amount due, on the spot.

The citizen then complained to the Ombudsman de Montréal, alleging that he had nothing to do with this alleged violation and submitting that it must have been a case of mistaken identity. Our intervention with the officials of Cour municipale de Montréal led to confirmation that there had in fact been an error made regarding the citizen’s identity.

Thanks to our efforts, procedures were set in motion to declare the citizen innocent of the violation that had been wrongfully attributed to him and, moreover, the fine the citizen had to pay while crossing Canadian Customs was also reimbursed.