Supreme Court of Canada Defers to Human Rights Commission Decisions at Early Stage of Process
March 20, 2012
In Halifax Regional Municipality v. Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, a N.S. Acadian parent complained to the N.S. Human Rights Commission that the Municipality’s French education funding arrangements discriminated against him and his children on the basis of their ethnic origin. The Commission investigated the complaint and decided to appoint a Board of Inquiry to conduct a public hearing and determine the complaint. The N.S. Supreme Court overturned the Commission’s decision, but the N.S. Court of Appeal subsequently reinstated the Commission’s decision to appoint a Board of Inquiry.
On March 16, 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) confirmed the Court of Appeal’s decision to reinstate the Commission’s decision. In a ruling that “ensures [a] reviewing court gives due deference to the administrative decision-maker” (in this case, the N.S. Human Rights Commission), the SCC held:
• a human rights commission’s decision to refer a complaint to a board of inquiry is administrative (one of screening and administration) and discretionary, not judicial (one of finally determining the complaint);
• a court reviewing such an administrative decision should consider whether the decision was “reasonable”, that is, “whether there was any reasonable basis on the law or the evidence for the commission’s decision to refer the complaint to a board of inquiry”; and
• courts reviewing such an administrative decision should “exercise restraint in intervening to prohibit a determination by the board of inquiry” as to whether a complaint was within the scope of the applicable human rights legislation.
The SCC concluded the N.S. Commission had a reasonable basis to decide an inquiry before a board of inquiry was warranted. Click here to read the SCC’s decision in Halifax (Regional Municipality) v. Nova Scotia (Human Rights Commission).
Practically, the SCC’s decision will make it harder for a party to challenge in court the decision of a specialized administrative body. Watch here for our full analysis of this case to be published soon.
Click here to download a PDF version of this update.
McInnes Cooper’s newsletters are prepared for information only and are not intended to be either a complete description of any issue or the opinion of our firm. McInnes Cooper should be consulted regarding any situation to which any topic discussed herein might apply.
- Share with others
- Stay informed with our legal updates by subscribing.