Lost in Translation

I have posted previously about the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Doré v. Barreau du Québec, 2012 SCC 12. It is a very important decision about the importance of Charter rights in administrative decision-making and judicial review. But there seems to be a difference between the French and English versions of the decision, written in English by Justice Abella.

In English, the key paragraph (from a judicial-review perspective) is the following:

[57] On judicial review, the question becomes whether, in assessing the impact of the relevant Charter protection and given the nature of the decision and the statutory and factual contexts, the decision reflects a proportionate balancing of the Charter protections at play.  As LeBel J. noted in Multani, when a court is faced with reviewing an administrative decision that implicates Charter rights, “[t]he issue becomes one of proportionality” (para. 155), and calls for integrating the spirit of s. 1 into judicial review.  Though this judicial review is conducted within the administrative framework, there is nonetheless conceptual harmony between a reasonableness review and the Oakes framework, since both contemplate giving a “margin of appreciation”, or deference, to administrative and legislative bodies in balancing Charter values against broader objectives. 

To me, this suggests that a reviewing court has to check that a “proportionate” balance has been struck by a decision-maker between its statutory objectives and the Charter. A full-blown Oakes test is not required. Rather, Justice Abella’s test is a ramped-up version of reasonableness.

She concludes, in paragraph 58, as follows: “If, in exercising its statutory discretion, the decision-maker has properly balanced the relevant Charter value with the statutory objectives, the decision will be found to be reasonable”. This is rather innocuous. “Properly” is presumably synonymous with “appropriately”.

However, in French, paragraph 58 reads differently:

[58] Si, en exerçant son pouvoir discrétionnaire, le décideur a correctement mis en balance la valeur pertinente consacrée par la Charteet les objectifs visés par la loi, sa décision sera jugée raisonnable.

Here, “properly” is translated as “correctement” or, in English, “correctly”.

This suggests a more intrusive review than Justice Abella’s test of “proportionate balancing”. The question for the reviewing court would be whether the decision-maker “got it right” in weighing up its statutory objectives against the Charter interests of the individual(s) in question.

Two different versions, two different tests?

In what looks like the first full application of Doré by the Québec Court of Appeal, Québec (Procureur général) c. Loyola High School, 2012 QCCA 2139, the Court ultimately preferred a proportionality-type test. The question at issue was whether Loyola should have been allowed by the province to opt out of a secular religious education course. Loyola argued that its preferred programme fulfilled the purposes of the province’s course and sought judicial review of the province’s refusal to grant an exemption.

Fournier J.A. adopted the language of paragraph 58 in French as an accurate summation of Doré:

[178]     L’arrêt Doré offre donc un test similaire fondé sur la proportionnalité. Il faut se demander si le décideur administratif, en exerçant son pouvoir discrétionnaire, a correctement mis en balance le droit consacré par les Chartes et les objectifs visés par la loi. En l’espèce, le droit est la liberté de religion et les objectifs sont ceux visés par le régime législatif de l’éducation au Québec.

He then took Doré as establishing a two-stage analysis, which first requires an examination of the interests at issue, and then a balancing. I am not sure this is the best reading of Doré: I interpret paragraphs 55 and 56 as speaking to what the decision-maker ought to do, with paragraph 57 speaking to what the reviewing court ought to do.

In any event, despite the reliance on paragraph 58, Fournier J.A. concluded as follows:

[183]     La deuxième étape consiste en une analyse de la proportionnalité entre la gravité de l’atteinte et les objectifs visés par la loi. La décision de la Ministre est le fruit d’une mise en balance proportionnée du droit à la liberté de religion et des objectifs de la loi et, à tout le moins, en tenant compte de ce que même sur cette question la norme de contrôle est celle de la décision raisonnable, elle fait partie des issues possibles.

Here, the emphasis was clearly on proportionality, though with a confusing reference to the decision lying within a range of reasonable outcomes. Fournier J.A. did not, then, fully follow the logic of his reliance on paragraph 58 by applying a stringent standard to the decision. Then again, given the Supreme Court’s decision in S.L. v. Commission scolaire des Chênes, 2012 SCC 7, the Charter interests in question (freedom of conscience and religion) were very weak. Another case might provide a better vehicle for resolution of the apparent conflict between the French and English versions of Doré.

Thanks to Sherbrooke’s Professor Cartier for pointing out the discrepancy to me. Robert Leckey has also written an interesting paper on how section 1 has been somewhat ‘lost in translation’.

This content has been updated on June 11, 2014 at 09:47.