Roncarelli V. Duplessis: Art. 1053 C.C. Revolutionized

By Sheppard, Claude-Armand | McGill Law Journal, September 2010 | Go to article overview

Roncarelli V. Duplessis: Art. 1053 C.C. Revolutionized


Sheppard, Claude-Armand, McGill Law Journal


I. THE FACTS.

How it began. Late diners are finishing their lunch at Frank Roncarelli's fashionable cafe on Crescent Street,. in Montreal. h is almost two o'clock in the afternoon of this fourth day of December, 1946. Suddenly, the comfortable hum in the room turns to consternation as burly constables of the Quebec Liquor Police erupt and proceed to the seizure and removal of all the liquor can find .Then, they vanish.

"The same day, in Quebec City, Maurice Lenoblet Duplessis, lawyer, Attorney-General anal Prime Minister of the Province of Quebec, convokes a press conference. He is quoted the next day by all leading French and English Montreal dailies as revealing be had ordered the Quebec Liquor Commission to cancel Roncarelli's liquor licence because of the restauranteur's support of the Witnesses of Jehovah in Quebec, anal particularly his "audacious" and "provocative" practice of posting hundreds of property bonds for the release of Witnesses arrested while distributing religious tracts.

During the next few weeks, the Prime Minister reiterates to newspapermen that the cancellation was his doing anal that it was designed to strike a blow, through Roncarelli, at the Witnesses of Jehovah, whose activities he considers seditious and not less nefarious than those of Communists and Nazis.

Roncarelli, whose high-class restaurant cannot endure without serving liquor and wine at meals, has thus received a mortal blow--indeed, it shuts after six months--and attempts to sue in damages the manager of the Quebec Liquor Commission, Edouard Archambault. But permission to sue, as required by section 12 of the Alcoholic Liquor Act, (2) is refused on rather flimsy grounds, by Chief Justice Severin Letourneau. (3) Roncarelli's attorneys, Stein & Stein, then seek to sue the Quebec Liquor Commission itself, and since section 12 of the Alcoholic Liquor Act (4) also requires the consent of the Attorney-General to any action against the Commission, they petition Duplessis for leave to sue. Not unexpectedly, the Attorney-General refuses. He tells a press conference, held on February 7, 1947, of his refusal and that Roncarelli's licence has been revoked, not temporarily, but "forever". After learning of this refusal through the newspapers, Roncarelli's attorneys--now assisted by John Ahem and F. R. Scott as counsel--again petition the Chief Justice for permission to sue Archambault personnally. The Chief Justice is adamant, and rejects the petition. (5)

Thwarted in their attempt to prosecute the Commission or its manager, Roncarelli's attorneys, in a fateful move, institute action against Maurice Lenoblet Duplessis personnally to recover damages in the amount of $118,741.00.

Thus began the notorious "Roncarelli case" which, for twelve years, crept through our courts before being finally disposed of by the Supreme Court in a controversial, puzzling and divided judgment rendered on January 27, 1959. (6)

The reason for the cancellation. Since the avowed reason for the cancellation--publicly acknowledged, never denied nor doubted--was Roncarelli's active support of the Witnesses of Jehovah in Quebec, it is important to determine the nature and extent of his participation in that movement.

The sect was not welcome. It made uncompromising attacks on the Roman Catholic Church and on the institutions of the Province. The authorities, rightly confident that they enjoyed the approval of the Roman Catholic majority in taking measures against the Witnesses, were not always too scrupulous about the methods used to try and extirpate them. A number of unequivocal decisions of the courts were necessary to remind the authorities of their duties. (7)

The sect began its aggressive campaign to convert Quebec sometime in 1945. Its indefatiguable adherents distributed tracts, books and Bibles; held services in homes and organized public lectures. There were disturbances and riots. …

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