The accused were a group of Sri Lankan migrants apprehended from a ship off the west coast of British Columbia. They stood charged under s. 117 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which made it an offence to “organize, induce, aid or abet” the entry of people into Canada in a manner contrary with the Act. The accused mounted a constitutional challenge of s. 117 on the basis that it infringed the guarantee of “life, liberty, and security of the person” enshrined in s. 7 of the Charter.
The constitutional challenge was allowed by the trial judge, but rejected by the Court of Appeal. On further appeal, the Supreme Court of Canada found that s. 117 existed for the legitimate, constitutional purpose of criminalizing the smuggling of people into Canada in the context of organized crime, but that it was worded in an overbroad manner, and therefore contrary to s. 7.
The Supreme Court concluded that s. 117, as it was worded at the time the accused were charged, would have criminalized three classes of conduct falling outside its legitimate purpose, namely: (1) humanitarian aid to undocumented entrants, (2) mutual aid amongst asylum seekers, and (3) assistance to family entering without the required documents.
Appulonappa is a good example of how broadly-worded legislation affecting life, liberty, or security of the person must be confined to a legitimate constitutional purpose. In circumstances where the wording of a statute allows for overbroad application, the proper remedy is to read down the legislation in question to eliminate the potential for a Charter breach.
Decided by the Supreme Court of Canada on November 27, 2015.
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