10.53: Punishment for civil contempt of Court

Case Summary

The Respondent was found in contempt of a Court Order requiring the Respondent to assist in enforcing community compliance with restrictions imposed by Alberta Health Services directed at mitigating the risks of the spread of COVID-19. The Court reviewed the law on sanctions for contempt in Alberta. The Court cited Rule 10.53 which sets out the various penalties for contempt that a Judge may order, including imprisonment and a fine.

In his legal analysis, Justice Germain first noted that Rule 10.53 is purposely broad and not exhaustive of the remedies a Court may impose. For example, while the Rule does not delineate it, a Court may order community service as a sanction for contempt. Justice Germain also noted that where a dispute is solely between litigants, as opposed to a matter that has a public or community impact, imprisonment is rare.

The Court emphasized that fines are a significant tool utilized to control contempt. The Court added that, fines for the breach of a Court Order differ from unpaid civil debt. While the former is contempt, and therefore can yield imprisonment, the latter is not contempt, so for that failure the successful party must resort to other collection techniques. Justice Germain emphasized that when considering a fine, it is prudent that the Judge imposing the sanction inquire about the contemnor’s ability to pay.

Justice Germain underscored that the central idea of sanctioning contempt is that the Courts have a right to protect the dignity of their own proceedings and are entitled to discipline. His Lordship added that, conduct that tarnishes, undermines or impedes the Court’s role in society as the principal administrator of justice must be discouraged.

Lastly, the Court noted that, in considering an appropriate sanction for contempt, some attention must be given to whether the contemnor apologized for the contempt. It added that, while an apology will not extinguish a contempt, a heartfelt apology may ameliorate a sanction. Importantly, a failure to apologize should not add a punitive element to the sanction.

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