Maple Syrup Gone Wrong
R v Vallières, 2022 SCC 10 revolves around a criminal enterprise transacting stolen maple syrup. This case marks the ultimate decision regarding a decade-long, notorious maple syrup heist uncovered in 2012.
Richard Vallières, the respondent, resold a quantity of stolen maple syrup valued over $18,000,000. As a result of criminal transactions, Vallières netted approximately $10,000,000 in income and $1,000,000 in personal profits.
The trial judge and the Quebec Court of Appeal diverged regarding the amount of the fine to be paid by Vallières. The trial judge imposed a fine of $10,000,000 (the exact amount of the criminal proceeds). On the other hand, the Quebec Court of Appeal noted that even if the fine or penalty should reflect the dual objectives of deprivation of proceeds and deterrence, the fine can be reduced via deducting the amount Vallières paid to his accomplices. Attempting to avoid double recovery regarding the amounts paid to Vallières’ accomplices, the Quebec Court of Appeal argued that the trial judge imposed a disproportionately high penalty.
At the Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”), Wagner CJC ultimately held that the appeal should be allowed, setting aside the Court of Appeal’s judgment. Maple syrup or not, courts do not have discretion to reduce or limit penalties.
Orchestrating a large-scale theft and fraud scheme involving maple syrup, Richard Vallières and his principal accomplice, Avik Caron, trafficked and resold maple syrup on the black market belonging to the Fédération des producteurs acéricoles du Québec (“Federation”). Together with a team of sixteen accomplices, Vallières planned a profitable criminal enterprise. This criminal organization strategically accomplished the largest theft and resale of stolen maple syrup in the history of the Sûreté du Québec: 9,571 barrels of maple syrup.
The trial judge imposed a penalty of $10,000,000 which is based on the total income Vallières received from the theft, fraud and trafficking of all of the maple syrup. Yet, the Quebec Court of Appeal disagreed. The Court of Appeal held that courts may exercise judicial discretion to correct a fine to reflect the actual profits made by Vallières minus the amounts paid to the accomplices. This would accurately reflect the personal gains of Vallières. Thus, the Court of Appeal found that the trial judge erred by holding that the judiciary has no choice but to impose a fine that is equal to the amount of personal gain.
The central issue is whether a court may exercise a certain degree of judicial discretion to limit the amount of a fine or penalty issued pursuant to section 462.37(3) of the Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46. Section 462.37(3) revolves around fine in lieu of an order for forfeiture of property that constitutes the proceeds of crime. Wagner CJ parsed the meaning of the word “may” in the provision and underscored that Parliament’s usage of may confers only a limited discretion, and does not actually permit courts to reduce the amount of a fine in lieu of the profits from criminal enterprises.
Parliament has already determined the amount of fine as being equal to the value of the proceeds from the criminal activity. Importantly, proceeds from criminal enterprises are captured by the concept of property. Section 2 of the Criminal Code defines property as “property originally in the possession or under the control of any person, and any property into or for which it has been converted or exchanged and anything acquired at any time by the conversion or exchange.” This is an inclusive, broad definition designed to capture gross income derived from the sale of property in criminal activities.
Fruits of criminal activities should not be limited to the exact profit margin—this would effectively legitimize criminal enterprises via affording criminal transactions a proper calculation of profit determined by deducting expenses from income. Parliament intended to punish crimes vis-à-vis deterring all motivation for criminal proceeds.
Writing for the unanimous SCC, Wagner CJ referenced paragraph 25 of Quebec (Attorney General) v Laroche, 2002 SCC 72 where the SCC held that the legislative objective of the Criminal Code provision extends beyond mere punishment of crime. In R v Lavigne,  1 SCR 1591 at paragraph 23, the SCC opined that deterrence encompasses accomplices and extends to criminal enterprises. This principle holds true in this case. Penalties or fines are intended to deter reoffending and void proceeds of crime. Proper calculations of profit by deducting expenses from income should not be afforded to criminal enterprises because this would effectively legitimize criminal transactions.
Maple syrup and any other commodities should not become the pawn deployed by criminal enterprises to obtain profits in black markets. The $10,000,000 fine marks Parliament and the SCC’s stern attitude toward combating organized crime via capturing the entire amount of personal profits gained from the reselling of barrels.
Black markets harm the integrity of Canada’s financial economy. Black markets, or shadow markets, exchange illegal goods in an illegal way. This case underscores Parliament’s fight against organized crime. Profits and income from illicit transactions harm everyone: Canadians pay for these crimes through higher taxes and increased prices on essential goods and services. This pain is particularly acute in times of high inflation. Crime does not, and should not, pay.