Opsis Airport Services Inc. v. Attorney General of Québec, et al.

(Quebec) (Criminal) (By Leave)


Constitutional law — Interjurisdictional immunity — Impairment — Evidence — Provincial offences — Licences — Application of provincial statute to airport security activities — Whether scheme of Private Security Act can apply to security activities that are essentially public and governmental in nature, such as airport security activities — When doctrine of interjurisdictional immunity is being considered, what is nature of intrusion required to constitute impairment and make provincial statute constitutionally inapplicable, and what is burden of proof that applies in establishing such impairment? — Extent to which intrusion by provincial legislature on federal field of aeronautics can frustrate objectives of uniformity and standardization to which Canada committed itself under Chicago Convention — Private Security Act, CQLR, c. S-3.5.


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The applicant, Opsis Airport Services Inc., is a federal company that operates the emergency call dispatch centre at Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport. The respondent the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions charged Opsis with operating an enterprise that carried on private security activities without holding an agency licence of the appropriate class, contrary to ss. 4 and 114 of the Private Security Act, CQLR, c. S-3.5 (“PSA”). Opsis admitted that, without holding an agency licence, it was carrying on activities related to electronic security systems, which are normally subject to the PSA. However, it challenged the PSA’s constitutional applicability, relying on the doctrine of interjurisdictional immunity.

The Court of Québec held that the PSA applied to Opsis and therefore accepted the guilty pleas, convicted Opsis of the offences as charged and imposed fines on it. The court found that the PSA did not intrude on the core of a federal head of power because the PSA had no impact or only a very small impact on Opsis’s operations. The Superior Court allowed Opsis’s appeal, declared the PSA inapplicable to Opsis’s activities related to the operation of the emergency call centre pursuant to the doctrine of interjurisdictional immunity, quashed the convictions and acquitted Opsis of the offences charged. The judge held that the PSA intruded on the core of the federal aeronautics power, which included airport security, and that the intrusion constituted an impairment of the core of the federal power. A majority of the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal, set aside the Superior Court’s judgment and affirmed the convictions entered by the Court of Québec. Although Opsis’s activities fell within the core of Parliament’s aeronautics power, the application of the PSA did not cause any actual impairment. A purely speculative or hypothetical impairment did not suffice. Ruel J.A., dissenting, would have dismissed the appeal and affirmed the Superior Court’s judgment. He was of the view that if the PSA was applicable to Opsis’s operations, the provisions would impair the core of federal jurisdiction over aeronautics safety and security.

Lower Court Rulings

December 18, 2020
Superior Court of Quebec

2020 QCCS 4772, 505-36-002110-197
Appeal allowed; Act declared inapplicable to activities carried on by Opsis; convictions quashed; acquittals entered
April 19, 2023
Court of Appeal of Quebec (Québec)

2023 QCCA 506, 500-10-007490-210
Appeal allowed; convictions entered by Court of Québec affirmed