National Assembly guards fired for peeping on hotel guests had right to due process, Canada's top court rules

The former National Assembly speaker did not have the right to fire three security guards accused of spying on neighbouring hotel guests with surveillance cameras in Quebec City without due process, the Supreme Court ruled Friday.

Former speaker of the National Assembly Jacques Chagnon fired three guards in 2012

The Quebec City Hilton Hotel is located across the road from the National Assembly where guards were fired for using surveillance cameras to spy on guests. (Google Maps)

The former speaker at Quebec's National Assembly did not have the right to fire three security guards accused of spying on neighbouring hotel guests with surveillance cameras in Quebec City without due process, the Supreme Court ruled Friday.

Jacques Chagnon fired the guards in 2012 after they were caught using the Quebec legislature's surveillance cameras to peep on guests in a hotel across the street.

The guards' union contested the dismissal, saying Chagnon should not have used parliamentary privilege to fire the guards without due process under labour laws and their collective agreement.

Decisions went back and forth as the case moved through the courts until 2017 when the Quebec Court of Appeal ruling in the union's favour, saying the guards were entitled to due process.

In a 7-2 ruling in favour of the guards, the Supreme Court upheld that decision, saying the legislature cannot evade labour laws by invoking parliamentary privilege.

Parliamentary privilege has limits, court rules​

Chagnon's lawyers have argued that he had the power to exercise the privilege to ensure that nothing disrupts the day-to-day operations at the National Assembly.

Parliamentary privilege is a type of legal protection that allows legislatures to operate without outside interference.

Under that privilege, Chagnon argued no one else was allowed to review his decision, not even a labour arbitrator who decides on complaints under a collective agreement.

Jacques Chagnon represented the Montreal riding of Westmount until stepping down before the recent election. (The Canadian Press)

However, the court ruled that parliamentary privilege only covers decisions necessary for a legislature to fulfil its constitutional role and the issue should have been dealt with under existing labour laws to protect the guards' rights under the charter.

"The dismissals are not protected by parliamentary privilege and therefore are not immune from external review under the applicable labour relations regime," said the ruling.

"Although the President is entitled to exercise his management rights and dismiss security guards for a just and sufficient cause, parliamentary privilege does not insulate the president's decision from review under the labour regime to which the guards are subject."

Using camera to spy on hotel guests

Over a two-year period, Stéphane Demers, a high-ranking officer with the Sûreté du Québec, diverted a surveillance camera, mounted on the tower of the National Assembly, to peep in on the intimate antics of couples who were staying at the neighbouring hotel.

Demers admitted to the allegations in April 2012 and Quebec's police ethics committee ruled that he abused his authority and didn't respect the law. After working for the SQ since 1989, Demers was dismissed.

But he was not alone as other officers were also accused of partaking in or ignoring the illicit activity.

With files from Lauren McCallum and The Canadian Press

About the Author

Isaac Olson

Isaac Olson is a journalist with CBC Montreal.