Statutory Tribunals Performing Judicial Review: Some Recent Decisions

I have written before about whether a statutory tribunal sitting on “appeal” from another body can exercise a judicial review jurisdiction — and Francophiles can read in greater detail in the latest issue of the Canadian Bar Review.

The issue continues to arise with frequency before Canadian courts. In two recent decisions, appellate judges have gone out of their way to cast doubt on the legitimacy of statutory judicial review.

First, De Montigny J.A. in Canada (Attorney General) v. Jean, 2015 FCA 242:

[19]        …I am not convinced of the relevance of subjecting decisions rendered by the Appeal Division to an analysis based on the standard of review. When it acts as an administrative appeal tribunal for decisions rendered by the General Division of the Social Security Tribunal, the Appeal Division does not exercise a superintending power similar to that exercised by a higher court. Given the risk of a blurring of lines, it seems to me that we must refrain from borrowing from the terminology and the spirit of judicial review in an administrative appeal context. Not only does the Appeal Division have as much expertise as the General Division of the Social Security Tribunal and thus is not required to show deference, but an administrative appeal tribunal also cannot exercise the review and superintending powers reserved for higher provincial courts or, in the case of “federal boards”, for the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal (ss. 18.1 and 28 of the Federal Courts Act, R.S.C. 1985, c F-7). Where it hears appeals pursuant to subsection 58(1) of the Department of Employment and Social Development Act, the mandate of the Appeal Division is conferred to it by sections 55 to 69 of that Act. In particular, it must determine whether the General Division “erred in law in making its decision, whether or not the error appears on the face of the record” (paragraph 58(1)(b) of the Act). There is no need to add to this wording the case law that has developed on judicial review.

See also Maunder v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 FCA 274, at para.3.

Second, Savard J.A. in Larochelle c. Comité de déontologie policière, 2015 QCCA 2105:

[36]        …j’ouvre ici une parenthèse pour écarter immédiatement l’application d’une norme d’intervention reposant sur les principes usuels de droit administratif propres à la révision judiciaire (normes de la décision correcte et de la décision raisonnable). Nous sommes en présence d’un décideur administratif, le Comité, qui révise une décision d’un autre décideur administratif, le Commissaire, le tout dans le cadre d’un processus administratif. Il ne s’agit pas ici d’une cour de justice qui s’acquitte de son pouvoir de surveillance et de contrôle à l’égard d’un tribunal administratif, que ce soit par le moyen de la révision judiciaire ou par celui de l’appel. J’écarte également une intervention qui reposerait sur les principes applicables à l’appel au sens propre (norme de la décision correcte sur les questions de droit et norme de l’erreur manifeste et dominante sur les questions de fait ou mixtes de fait et de droit). Le fondement de cette norme ne trouve pas application ici en ce que la décision du Commissaire ne s’inscrit pas dans un processus judiciaire ou quasi-judiciaire. Au surplus, il est difficile de parler d’un « appel » (dans son sens habituel) alors que le Comité ne peut substituer entièrement sa décision à celle du Commissaire, puisqu’il ne peut exercer sa compétence en matière d’enquête. Finalement, il ne s’agit pas non plus d’appliquer les règles relatives à la révision par un organisme administratif de ses propres décisions (principe de la légalité auquel réfère l’appelant), le Commissaire et le Comité étant des décideurs administratifs distincts. Je referme la parenthèse.

This leaves unanswered the role of the Cour du Québec, a provincial court (not a superior court) whose appellate jurisdiction from various administrative bodies has been transformed into a judicial review jurisdiction, on the strength of Association des courtiers et agents immobiliers du Québec v. Proprio Direct inc., [2008] 2 SCR 195, where a standard of reasonableness was confirmed in respect of appeals of disciplinary decisions but without any recognition that a non-s. 96 court was to conduct the reasonableness review. In addition, the Court of Appeal had applied judicial review principles in determining the scope of the Cour du Québec’s appellate jurisdiction (2006 QCCA 978), something that the Supreme Court did not comment upon. Recently, the Supreme Court denied leave to appeal — with costs against the appellant — in a matter raising precisely this issue: Ville de Laval c. Frères Maristes (Iberville), 2015 CanLII 81624. This is unfortunate. The Refugee Appeal Tribunal cases heading (I assume) for the Supreme Court, as well as the Fraser Health Authority appeal that will be heard early in the New Year, raise questions about whether statutory tribunals can conduct judicial reviews. Unless the Supreme Court says in all of these cases that a statutory tribunal can exercise a judicial review jurisdiction, its decisions are going to cause uncertainty with respect to the status of the Cour du Québec. It is a pity that leave was not granted in Frères Maristes, where the question could have been addressed at least in light of Fraser Health Authority and perhaps some other cases.

This content has been updated on December 20, 2015 at 17:50.