Thursday, 29 November 2012

Failure to Exercise a Discretionary Power

RM v. Scottish Ministers, [2012] UKSC 58 was a relatively straightforward case for the UK Supreme Court. The applicant/appellant is currently detained in a mental health facility under a compulsion order and wishes to apply to the Mental Health Tribunal for an order declaring that he is being held in conditions of excessive security.

The problem is that although the legislation in issue provides for such applications, they are contingent on the patient and his hospital being 'qualified' under the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act, 2003. Unfortunately, no regulations have been passed identifying the "qualifying patients" and "qualifying hospitals" for the purposes of such applications. This situation is not likely to last much longer, however.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Interpretations of "Home" Statutes and Deference

Just a very brief note on a couple of recent first-instance decisions that caught my eye. It has been suggested (para. 22) that the Supreme Court of Canada has recently indicated a strong preference for deferential judicial review when decision-makers are interpreting their constitutive or "home" statutes. Nevertheless, the categories of jurisdictional error and general question of law, said to require intrusive judicial review, remain.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Mayor, Bias, Procedural Fairness, and Democracy

Plenty of cyberink has already been spilled on the removal from office yesterday of Toronto mayor, Rob Ford. Hackland J.'s decision has aroused surprise, support, calls for reform of Ontario's Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, and, worst of all, bad sporting metaphors. While Hackland J.'s conclusions and interpretive approach are perfectly respectable, I do not think they are correct, as I will explain in this post. On first reading, I thought Hackland J.'s findings of fact were damning enough to give Ford little leeway on appeal. I am now not so sure.

To preview my argument, I think that Hackland J.'s interpretation of some of the statutory provisions is questionable and that his interpretive approach does not properly take account of context and the purposes of the Act. I will address the interpretations I disagree with in the context of explaining the facts of the case and then turn my attention to context and purpose. I should note that there are other questions too, in particular, whether the Act applies at all, but I won't address them in this post.

Friday, 23 November 2012


One of the more interesting political stories in Québec at the moment involves the new environment minister, Daniel Breton and the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement. On a visit to the BAPE's offices in October, Breton allegedly told members of the BAPE that he would telephone the chairperson whenever the BAPE made a recommendation he disagreed with, before demanding their cell phone numbers.

Supreme Court of Canada decision in Kane

Quick and brutal. The webcast of the hearing in Canada (Attorney General) v. Kane, 2012 SCC 64, was barely up on the Supreme Court's website before the appeal was allowed. Only 17 days elapsed between the hearing on November 6 and this morning's per curiam opinion.

Friday, 9 November 2012

The Federal Court of Appeal on Inadequate Reasons

The Supreme Court of Canada took the (in my view) reasonable step in Newfoundland Nurses, 2011 SCC 62 of separating procedural review for failure to provide reasons from substantive review for reasonableness. One concern that might be voiced in response is that rolling a procedural right to reasons into substantive review may give too much latitude to administrative decision-makers, resulting in opaque decisions which communicate little or nothing to those affected. Viewed in this light, the approach of the Federal Court of Appeal in Leahy v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2012 FCA 227 is reassuring.

Justice Stratas on Reasonableness and Context

Justice Stratas voiced some interesting thoughts on the meaning of reasonableness and context in Canada (Attorney General) v. Abraham, 2012 FCA 266:
[44]           For example, where the decision-maker is considering a discretionary matter that is based primarily on factual and policy matters having very little legal content, the range of possible, acceptable outcomes open to the decision-maker can be expected to be quite broad. As a practical matter, the breadth of the range in that sort of case means that it will be relatively difficult for a party applying for judicial review of the decision to show that it falls outside of the range.

[45]           In other cases, however, the situation might be different. For example, where the decision-maker is considering a discretionary matter that has greater legal content, the range of possible, acceptable outcomes open to the decision-maker might be narrower. Legal matters, as opposed to factual or policy matters, admit of fewer possible, acceptable outcomes.

Section 1 of the Charter: A (Con)Way Out of the Morass?

Section 1 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides that any infringement of a Charter right must be "prescribed by law", a requirement that must be satisfied by the government before an application of the proportionality test. The jurisprudence on section 1 is very messy and has been criticized. Indeed, the Supreme Court of Canada mentioned this criticism in its decision in Doré v. Barreau du Québec, 2012 SCC 12. It even relied on the criticism to justify overruling its previous decision in Multani (see my earlier post here). The funny thing is that the basic problem is not solved by Doré. I am going to suggest, however, that the Court's earlier decision in R. v. Conway, 2010 SCC 22 might point a way out of the morass.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Did the Refugee Protection Division Confuse Two Files?

Pierre c. Canada (Citoyenneté et Immigration), 2012 CF 1249 is one of the strangest cases I have ever seen. A series of bizarre factual errors motivated de Montigny J. to strike the decision down, because it was possible that the Refugee Protection Division had confused two different files.

Who Will Stand Up (in Court) for the Ospreys?

The Ospreys of the title are not the Welsh rugby franchise (often engaged in fierce competition with my home province of Munster), but rather the fish-eating birds of prey found near water. When unlawful government action threatens such creatures, they cannot go to court to defend themselves. Who can? The UK Supreme Court recently had something to say on the question, in Walton v. Scottish Ministers, [2012] UKSC 44.

Immigration Officer's Academic Writing Did Not Cause a Reasonable Apprehension of Bias

The applicant in Francis v. Canada (Immigration and Citizenship), 2012 FC 1141 was concerned that she had not got a fair shake before the Refugee Protection Division, on the basis of comments made by the decision-maker in previous academic writings. He had suggested that the refugee protection system gave rise to anomalies, and cited the applicant's place of origin, Saint Vincent, as an example. He had also argued that Canada's immigration policy could lead to a break down in social cohesion.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Lord Black's Day at the Advisory Council for the Order of Canada

If honours were given for services to administrative law, Lord Black would be a strong candidate. His lawsuit against Prime Minister Jean Chrétien gave rise to an important decision on justiciability, Black v. Canada (Prime Minister), 54 OR (3d) 215. His more recent attempt to maintain his membership of the Order of Canada has prompted another decision, again dealing with the prerogative powers of the federal government, which is likely to make the next editions of Canadian administrative law textbooks: Black v. Advisory Council for the Order of Canada, 2012 FC 1234

I think Justice de Montigny was broadly correct in his conclusion that Lord Black did not have the right to an oral hearing before the Advisory Council, though not necessarily for the right reasons.