Quebec is proper forum for sexual harassment complaint against Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation: Newfoundland and Labrador court

The Quebec flag on a building in Quebec City. Photo: Canva

A Newfoundland and Labrador court has ruled that a civil action involving an allegation of sexual harassment involving the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation should be tried in Quebec.

The foundation, known for its support of scholars addressing social issues, had been facing a lawsuit filed by the plaintiff, CS, in Newfoundland and Labrador. However, the court has ruled that Quebec is the preferred and more appropriate jurisdiction to hear her claims.

The lawsuit centers around allegations made by CS, a scholarship recipient of the foundation, regarding incidents involving the second defendant, SK, who acted as her mentor.

Unwanted advances

She alleges that during a three-day foundation event held in St. John’s, N.L., in 2018, SK made unwanted advances towards her.

On June 3, following dinner at a local restaurant, CS and SK shared a taxi back to their hotel. As they were saying goodnight in the lobby, she alleged that SK suddenly moved his body extremely close to hers, grabbed her upper arm close to her breasts and proceeded to massage and rub her arm for an extended period.

A similar incident occurred three days later at a gala dinner. This time, SK invited CS to visit his home in Yellowknife where she could stay in his spare bedroom.

Charity based in Montreal

The key point of contention in the court case was the jurisdiction in which the proceedings should take place. The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, a federally registered non-partisan charity based in Montreal, argued that the litigation should be conducted in Quebec due to its substantial and meaningful connection to the province.

The foundation pointed out that her scholarship was awarded for her work and research conducted at Concordia University in Montreal. Furthermore, a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) signed by CS contained a choice of law clause, explicitly stating that the agreement would be governed by Quebec’s laws.

CS’s counsel characterized the proceeding as, essentially, a personal injury case (sexual battery) that involves joint and several liability by SK and the foundation, and is not a contractual dispute.

The court’s ruling

The Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, General Division, considered several factors, including the foundation’s presence and assets, the location of the alleged incidents, and the availability of comparable actions and remedies under the Quebec Civil Code.

Ultimately, the court ruled in favor of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, concluding that Quebec is the more appropriate forum to hear the claims.

“This Court respects the jurisdiction of the Quebec courts to determine a resolution that is fair and equitable to all parties in a manner that would be considerably less inconvenient and expensive than were the parties to try the action in Newfoundland and Labrador,” it said.

It noted that, should a Quebec court refuse to hear the entirety of CS’s claim, then the parties have leave to apply to have the stay lifted.

For more information, see Smiley v. The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, 2023 NLSC 107 (CanLII)