This past week thousands of Montreal tenants received notices from their landlords modifing their leases. The landlords were using the power granted to them under Quebec’s Cannabis Regulation Act. Sec.107 of that Act gives landlords the right to retroactively modify leases disallowing the use of cannabis as long as the notices are served by January 15th and in the form proscribed by the Quebec government. Without commenting on cannabis use, here are the dangers to our civil liberties that this section presents as well as the questionable legal status of the Quebec Cannabis Act as a whole.
This action by Quebec marks the first time that any government legislates intervention in your home on a legal activity. In this time of growing prohibitionary rule and regulation, it sets a dangerous precedent that you can expect to be expanded into other areas. Even though this section contravenes the protection of your home from state intrusion by both the Canadian and Quebec Charters of Rights.
Sec.107 also marks the first time that a government legalizes retroactive changes to an existing contract. A lease is a contract and contracts must be respected to the end of their terms. There are other abuses that sec.107 has opened the door to.
Even if you as a tenant do not sign your consent on the notice, sec.107 states that 30 days after service it will become part of your lease. You can sign that you specifically do not agree, but the only exception to the cannabis use ban that will be accepted is a medical one accompanied by a doctor’s certificate. Silence will be considered acceptance.
This section was not necessary and the motivation for it was political. The concept of “peaceable enjoyment” of one’s premises has been enshrined in our criminal and civil law for more than eight decades and has worked effectively to ptotect tenants from smells, noise and any behaviour from other tenants that compromises one’s use of their own residence. The Régie de logement has enforced this in thousands of decisions that have forced tenants to change their behaviour or face lease termination. This legal principle respects the sanctity of contracts — leases — and does not put the state into your home regulating legal activity. Tenants are protected from undue and excessive cannabis use by neighbours just as they are from offensive and excessive cooking smells and loud music.
The irony of this section and indeed the Quebec Cannabis Regulation Act is that most, if not all, of it will be struck down when a constitutional challenge is launched. Quebec is counting on it taking a long time for someone to want to spend the money. Criminal law is a federal jurisdiction. Ottawa decriminalized cannabis use on Oct.17, 2018. It is not in the purview or power of provincial jurisdictions to limit or curtail legislation of federal power. Even supporters of the Quebec legislation admit that. But until therre is a challenge, the least we must do as citizens is be aware of what rights we can protect and how this province has once again attempted to thumb it’s nose at Ottawa. We are after all Canadians, not just Quebecers.