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Summary of Supreme Court of Canada R. v. Hinchey Decision

R. v. Hinchey , [1996] 3 S.C.R. 1128 was a case involving a federal public servant who was charged with violating the Criminal Code for handing out contracts to his own company.

In the ruling, Justice L’Heureux-Dube wrote the following for the majority judgment (Link to the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling):
At paragraph 13, speaking of the purpose of s.121 of the Criminal Code (which, along with other sections, makes corruption and fraud by public officials illegal):
“[the Criminal Code is] one of the myriad ways in which the government seeks to achieve this purpose. … Obviously, the criminal law is not the only method utilized; a variety of other statutes contain provisions which deal with corrupt or fraudulent practices, while there are also conflict of interest and ethical guidelines to regulate behaviour. See for example Financial Administration Act, R.S.C., 1985, c. F-11, ss. 80 and 81; Conflict of Interest and Post-Employment Code for Public Office Holders (1994).

At paragraph 14:
“It is hardly necessary for me to expand on the importance of having a government which demonstrates integrity. Suffice it to say that our democratic system would have great difficulty functioning efficiently if its integrity was constantly in question. While this has not traditionally been a major problem in Canada, we are not immune to seeing officials fall from grace as the result of a violation of the important trust we place in their integrity. . . .
“I would merely add that the importance of preserving integrity in the government has arguably increased given the need to maintain the public’s confidence in government in an age where it continues to play an ever increasing role in the quality of everyday people’s lives. As the U.S. Congress has stated about its own anti-corruption measures:
“The necessity for maintaining high ethical standards of behaviour in the Government becomes greater as its activities become more complex and bring it into closer and closer contact with the private sector of the Nation’s economy.”
As quoted in United States v. Evans , 572 F.2d 455 (5th Cir. 1978), at p. 480.”

At paragraph 17 (with similar comments elsewhere):
“For a government, actual integrity is achieved when its employees remain free of any type of corruption. On the other hand, it is not necessary for a corrupt practice to take place in order for the appearance of integrity to be harmed. Protecting these appearances is more than a trivial concern.”

And at paragraph 18:
“In my view, given the heavy trust and responsibility taken on by the holding of a public office or employ, it is appropriate that government officials are correspondingly held to codes of conduct which, for an ordinary person, would be quite severe. For the public, who is the ultimate beneficiary of honest government, it is not so easy to sort out which benefits are legitimate and which are laden with a sinister motivation. Moreover, it is inefficient for a government to be paralyzed by rumour and innuendo while an inquiry is made into the motivation behind a certain benefit or advantage conferred on an official. What Parliament is saying through this provision is that the damage sought to be prevented is actually done once the benefit is conferred, and not after an ex post facto analysis which demonstrates that no harm was intended. It is from the point of the conferral of the benefit forward that the appearance of integrity has been slighted.”

The minority judgment in R v Hinchey , delivered by Justice Cory, did not dissent on any of the above points. In fact, Justice Cory agreed with the need for an “appearance of integrity” standard for public officials, stating at paragraph 94:
“The magnitude and importance of government business requires not only the complete integrity of government employees and officers conducting government business but also that this integrity and trustworthiness be readily apparent to society as a whole.”