March 2011

The limited powers of municipal judges

By Albert Prévost Lawyer

Québec Superior Court sitting in appeal recently ruled on the powers of municipal judges with regards to sanitation in the matter of Tousignant v. Municipalité de Lac-Beauport (J.E. 2010-2046).

A municipal judge found Tousignant guilty of permitting and tolerating sewage discharge into the environment and ordered him to pay a $2 000 fine and rebuild the water disposal and wastewater treatment systems on his property.

The Municipal Court judge based the order on the provisions outlined in section 56 of the Municipal Powers Act, which stipulates that if the owner or occupant of an immovable is convicted of an offence against a sanitation by-law, the judge may order the offender to abate the unsanitary condition or have the necessary work carried out to prevent its recurrence.

Tousignant appealed the ruling on the order before Québec Superior Court, invoking that the Municipal Court judge did not have the power to issue it. The Superior Court judge therefore had to determine if the Municipal Court judge could render the order for an issue pertaining to an immovable.

After assessing the various applicable legislative provisions and especially sections 56, 58 and 61 of the Municipal Powers Act, the Superior Court judge ruled that the provisions "[demonstrated the willingness of the provincial legislator to limit the powers granted to municipal judges under article 56 of the Act to sanitary issues and nuisances appurtenant to an immovable (e.g. waste), as opposed to issues pertaining directly to immovables (e.g. corporeal land or work of a permanent nature), which are under the exclusive jurisdiction of Québec Superior Court.]"

Though the ruling in the matter concerned a sanitary issue, it is important to note that the same principle applies to nuisances under section 60 of the Municipal Powers Act.

Municipalities seeking orders for unsanitary conditions or nuisances pertaining to an immovable must therefore refer to Québec Superior Court, since Municipal Court judges may only render orders pertaining to movables (e.g. waste) and impose fines.