Rarotonga, 2010

Simon's Megalomaniacal Legal Resources


ADMINISTRATIVE LAW | SPPA / Fairness (Administrative)

home / about / Democracy, Law and Duty / testimonials / Conditions of Use

Civil and Administrative
Litigation Opinions
for Self-Reppers

Simon's Favourite Charity -
Little Friends Lefkada (Greece)
Cat and Dog Rescue


Civil Contempt - Reticence to Find

. LeGrand v. LeGrand

In LeGrand v. LeGrand (Div Court, 2023) the Divisional Court considered the contempt 'last resort' principle, reflecting reticence in finding contempt:
The Motion Judge Applied the “Last Resort” Principle

[35] The “last resort” principle speaks to whether all other enforcement mechanisms have been exhausted prior to making a finding of contempt, see Moncur v Plante 2021 ONCA 462 at para 19. The father asserts on appeal that the finding was not made as a “last resort,” but he proposes no other enforcement mechanism that could have been undertaken. Nor did he ask for a further period to purge his contempt during the motion heard February 17, 2022. To the contrary, he declared that the girls had voted with their feet, and that there was nothing more to be done about it.

[36] A motion judge may combine the finding and sentencing phases in a family law case, see para 14 of Rego v. Santos, 2015 ONCA 540. Justice Hughes’ decision to address the motion in its entirety on February 17, 2022 was not a denial of the Appellant’s ability to mount a defence, but rather was the inevitable result of his failure to take any meaningful steps to respond to his persistent contempt of the court’s orders after being given multiple opportunities to purge his contempt.

[37] In her Order of November 27, 2020 Justice Hughes created a process by which the father could have cured his breach of the final Orders. There was no dispute about the terms of the final Orders or the pathway to compliance set out in the November 27, 2020 Order. The father had ample time to demonstrate compliance. He failed to do so. There was no need to provide a further opportunity to do so.


Summary and Conclusions

[41] On November 27, 2020, findings establishing liability for contempt were made in accordance with the test for civil contempt by the motions judge. However, the motion judge declined to make the finding at that time, recognizing that such a finding should be a remedy of last resort. Instead, she imposed remedial Orders designed to encourage compliance with the final Order in a manner that would permit the father to cure his breach.

[42] The motion judge found that the father failed to abide by her remedial Orders and the original non-compliance continued. By the time of the contempt hearing on February 17, 2022, the father had taken the position that the girls’ estrangement from their mother was (a) their choice, not his, and (b) permanent. The mother accepted the advice she had been given by the reunification counsellor that “good-bye for now” was the appropriate way forward and asked the court to make findings and impose sanctions based on the father’s contempt throughout.

[43] The motion judge accepted the mother’s argument that the father had instigated the situation by his deliberate flouting of the consent Orders, and that he did so for financial motives. These conclusions were amply supported in the record. The father was afforded procedural fairness throughout and had a period of about two years to address and remedy his breach of the final Orders. The motion judge’s conclusion that matters had now reached the “last resort” and that contempt findings were warranted is unassailable. I would uphold the motion judge’s contempt findings.
. Greenberg v. Nowack

Greenberg v. Nowack (Ont CA, 2016) is useful as a demonstration of the significant hurdles to be overcome by a party attempting to have another held in civil contempt, here in the course of collection proceedings:
(1) Did the Motion Judge Err in Finding the Elements of Civil Contempt Were Not Proven?

[25] The test for civil contempt was articulated by the Supreme Court in Carey v. Laiken, 2015 SCC 17 (CanLII), [2015] 2 S.C.R. 79, at paras. 33-35:

1. The order alleged to have been breached must state clearly and unequivocally what should and should not be done;

2. The party alleged to have breached the order must have had actual knowledge of it; and

3. The party allegedly in breach must have intentionally done the act that the order prohibits or intentionally failed to do the act the order compels.

[26] Each element of civil contempt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt: Carey v. Laiken, at para. 32. A judge has discretion to decline to make a contempt finding where the three-part test has been met where it would be unjust to do so, such as where the alleged contemnor has acted in good faith to take reasonable steps to comply with the relevant court order: Carey v. Laiken, at para. 37.

[27] In this case, at para. 48 of his reasons, the motion judge described the three-part as follows: first, whether the order clearly and unequivocally states what should and should not be done; second, whether the alleged contemnor disobeyed the order deliberately and wilfully; and third, whether the contempt was proven beyond a reasonable doubt. This is inconsistent with how the test is described in Carey v. Laiken. The question is not whether the alleged contemnor wilfully and deliberately disobeyed the relevant order. Rather, what is required is an intentional act or omission that breaches the order. “The required intention relates to the act itself, not to the disobedience; in other words, the intention to disobey, in the sense of desiring or knowingly choosing to disobey the order, is not an essential element of civil contempt”: Robert J. Sharpe, Injunctions and Specific Performance, loose-leaf, 4th ed. (Toronto: Canada Law Book, 2015), at para. 6.190 (citations omitted). Requiring the alleged contemnor to have intentionally disobeyed a court order would result in too high a threshold: Carey v. Laiken, at para. 38.

[28] Further, the motion judge referred to Mr. Nowack’s failures as “not flagrant or contumelious” (at para. 65). In Carey v. Laiken, at para. 29, the Supreme Court was clear that contumacy – meaning “the intent to interfere with the administration of justice” – is not an element of civil contempt, and that a lack of contumacy is correspondingly not a defence.

[29] Accordingly, the Greenbergs were not required to prove that Mr. Nowack intended to disobey the Prior Orders. Demonstrating that Mr. Nowack failed to comply with an act the Prior Orders compelled, namely the production of his financial documents and preparation of an accounting, would be sufficient. The Greenbergs put forward a prima facie case that Mr. Nowack intentionally failed to comply with the Prior Orders. In his decision of November 18, 2015, the motion judge invited the Greenbergs to move for a contempt order if Mr. Nowack failed to provide an accounting by December 18, 2015. There is no question that he failed to do so – indeed, the motion judge acknowledged this at para. 41 of his reasons.

[30] There did not seem to be any question in the contempt proceedings about the first two elements of the test – whether the orders were clear and unambiguous and that Mr. Nowack had actual notice of their requirements. The orders in question required Mr. Nowack to provide an accounting to the Greenbergs and to disclose documentation pertaining to his financial affairs. These requirements were clear and unambiguous. Mr. Nowack also had actual knowledge of the requirements of the orders which were made in his presence. Despite Mr. Nowack’s repeated attendances, he failed to produce documents and to provide an accounting, leading the motion judge to repeat these requirements, impose deadlines, and invite the Greenbergs to renew their contempt motion in the event of continued non-compliance.

[31] It is difficult therefore to understand the motion judge’s conclusion that the contempt motion failed all three prongs of the test for contempt. Indeed, the motion judge did not explain his conclusion, other than that he was unwilling to find contempt (and to imprison Mr. Nowack) in the context of the enforcement of a civil judgment. The conclusion may also stem from the motion judge’s finding that Mr. Nowack’s performance was not contumelious. In any event, as Blair J.A. stated in Bell ExpressVu Limited. Partnership v. Torroni, 2009 ONCA 85 (CanLII), 94 O.R. (3d) 614, at para. 23, a motion judge “must at a minimum turn his or her mind to the test and apply the elements of the test properly.” The motion judge failed to do so here.

[32] On a motion for contempt, it is proper for a court to emphasize the goal of engaging compliance rather than punishment: Chiang (Re), 2009 ONCA 3 (CanLII), 93 O.R. (3d) 483, at para. 11. Civil contempt is regarded primarily as coercive rather than punitive: Carey v. Laiken, at para. 31, citing Injunctions and Specific Performance, at para. 6.100. Contempt is not available to enforce the payment of a monetary judgment, however there is no question that breach of a court order requiring financial disclosure in the course of enforcement of a judgment debt can ground a finding of civil contempt. In Chiang, for example, where contempt proceedings arose out of a series of orders made in the course of the enforcement of a judgment for the payment of money, this court described the case as “one of the worst cases of civil contempt to come before [the] court”: at para. 1. See also Doobay v. Diamond, 2012 ONCA 580 (CanLII), 297 O.A.C. 190; GM Textiles Inc. v. Sidhu, 2016 ONSC 2055 (CanLII); Cellupica v. Di Giulio, 2011 ONSC 1715 (CanLII), 105 O.R. (3d) 687.

[33] For the foregoing reasons, I conclude that the motion judge did not properly turn his mind to the elements of the three-part test for civil contempt, when he concluded that the Greenbergs had not met any branch of the test, and dismissed the motion for contempt.
The motions judge below also accepted unsworn oral testimony from the respondent, advanced under the guise of legal submissions, a practice that the court criticized as follows:
(2) Did the Motion Judge Err in Relying on Mr. Nowack’s Submissions as Evidence?

[35] The contempt hearing was conducted in a summary manner. The motion judge did not invite oral testimony. Mr. Nowack, who was self-represented, had filed no evidence. He did, however, make submissions as to why he failed to provide an accounting.

[36] Rule 39 requires evidence on a motion to be adduced by affidavit, cross-examination on an affidavit, the examination of a witness pending a motion, or by oral testimony at the hearing of a motion with leave.

[37] The motion judge adverted to the fact that no evidence had been put forward by Mr. Nowack in response to the contempt motion. He stated, at para. 43 of his reasons, “[b]efore the hearing, [Mr. Nowack] did not provide any affidavit evidence. At the hearing, Mr. Nowack, who had been sworn to tell the truth at earlier attendances, attempted to offer an explanation for his failure to provide the accounting.” The motion judge accordingly appears to have treated Mr. Nowack’s oral submissions as evidence.

[38] While the motion judge may well have been entitled to consider Mr. Nowack’s submissions as evidence, relying on the fact that he had previously been sworn as a witness, he ought to have informed the Greenbergs’ counsel that this was what he was doing, and afforded him the opportunity to cross-examine Mr. Nowack. I accept that the Greenbergs were taken by surprise by the motion judge’s apparent acceptance of Mr. Nowack’s brief explanation in his oral submissions as to why he had failed to comply with the outstanding orders. In these circumstances, to the extent that the motion judge relied on Mr. Nowack’s explanation to conclude that the Greenbergs had not met the test for contempt, he erred in doing so.
. Carey v Laiken

In Carey v Laiken (SCC, 2015) the court stated:
[36] The contempt power is discretionary and courts have consistently discouraged its routine use to obtain compliance with court orders: see, e.g., Hefkey v. Hefkey, 2013 ONCA 44, 30 R.F.L. (7th) 65, at para. 3. If contempt is found too easily, “a court’s outrage might be treated as just so much bluster that might ultimately cheapen the role and authority of the very judicial power it seeks to protect”: Centre commercial Les Rivières ltée v. Jean Bleu inc., 2012 QCCA 1663, at para. 7. As this Court has affirmed, “contempt of court cannot be reduced to a mere means of enforcing judgments”: Vidéotron Ltée v. Industries Microlec Produits Électroniques Inc., 1992 CanLII 29 (SCC), [1992] 2 S.C.R. 1065, at p. 1078, citing Daigle v. St-Gabriel-de-Brandon (Paroisse), 1991 CanLII 3806 (QC CA), [1991] R.D.J. 249 (Que. C.A.). Rather, it should be used “cautiously and with great restraint”: TG Industries, at para. 32. It is an enforcement power of last rather than first resort: Hefkey, at para. 3; St. Elizabeth Home Society v. Hamilton (City), 2008 ONCA 182, 89 O.R. (3d) 81, at paras. 41-43; Centre commercial Les Rivières ltée, at para. 64.

[37] For example, where an alleged contemnor acted in good faith in taking reasonable steps to comply with the order, the judge entertaining a contempt motion generally retains some discretion to decline to make a finding of contempt: see, e.g., Morrow, Power v. Newfoundland Telephone Co. (1994), 1994 CanLII 9723 (NL CA), 121 Nfld. & P.E.I.R. 334 (Nfld. C.A.), at para. 20; TG Industries, at para. 31. While I prefer not to delineate the full scope of this discretion, given that the issue was not argued before us, I wish to leave open the possibility that a judge may properly exercise his or her discretion to decline to impose a contempt finding where it would work an injustice in the circumstances of the case.


The author has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to this Isthatlegal.ca webpage.

Last modified: 07-02-24
By: admin