Government Response to the Fifteenth Report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights

Corporate Liability

November 2002


The Government has concluded that Canadian criminal law as it applies to corporations is in need of modernization. The "directing mind" model does not reflect the reality of corporate decision-making and delegation of operational responsibility in complex organizations.

It is the Government's view that Canadian criminal law should be reformed to:

  • expand the class of persons capable of engaging the liability of the corporation to include persons who have operational authority; and
  • hold a corporation criminally liable for crimes of subjective intent that are committed on behalf of or for the benefit of the corporation where a senior person with policy or operational authority
    • committed the offence personally; or
    • had the necessary intent and directed the affairs of the corporation so that lower-level employees carried out the prohibited conduct; or
    • was aware of or wilfully blind to criminal activity carried out by lower-level employees and failed to take remedial action as soon as practicable to stop the criminal conduct; and
  • hold a corporation liable for crimes of negligence where the acts and omissions of its representatives taken as a whole exhibit a marked departure from the standard normally expected in the circumstances, even if no single individual has acted with criminal negligence.

The principles of sentencing in the Criminal Code should provide more guidance to the courts when imposing sentences on corporations.

The Government has concluded that there is no need for any change in the criminal law dealing with the responsibility of directors and officers. As individuals, they are already liable for their personal action. They can also be charged as parties along with the corporation, for aiding or abetting the commission of an offence or as accessories to an offence committed by the corporation.

With respect to workplace safety, the Government has concluded that codifying a duty of reasonable care for the safety of workers on all persons is a better solution than making a special offence of "corporate killing". The criminal law should clearly impose on every person who employs or directs another person to perform work a legal duty to take reasonable care to avoid foreseeable harm to the person or the public. Wanton or reckless disregard of this duty leading to death or bodily harm would be the basis of a charge of criminal negligence.

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