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Roncarelli v Duplessis, [1959] SCR 121 (Link)


Roncarelli (R) was a private citizen and Jehovah’s Witness who bailed out other Jehovah's Witnesses who had been detained for distributing pamphlets. Duplessis (D) was both the Premier and Attorney General of Quebec who ordered R’s liquor licence revoked. Liquor Commissioner revoked R’s licence on behalf of D. By statute, the Commissioner was empowered to cancel permits at his discretion.


Can a public officer, who is given statutory power to act at his discretion, exercise that discretion without limits and in accordance with personal preference?


There is no such thing as absolute discretion in public law. Discretion must always be exercised in accordance with statutory purpose.


Discretionary authority is not unlimited. It must be based on the weighing of considerations pertinent to the object of the administration of the act. No legislative act can give unlimited arbitrary power. Discretion must be used in good faith; unlimited arbitrary discretion would signal the end of rule of law and democracy.


Decision in favour of Roncarelli.


  1. Fiat Justitia Ruat Caelum 32

    It would be helpful to add what the relevant legislation and caselaw this decision used to determine the limitation of public officer powers.

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