Religious organizations – Governance – Church ministers – Disciplinary proceedings – Suspensions – Hearings – Judicial review – Breach of procedural fairness – Natural justice – Jurisdiction
Graham v. United Church of Canada,  S.J. No. 596, Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench, November 15, 2002, Foley J.
Graham was a minister of the United Church of Canada. She acted as a minister of Grace-Westminster United Church in River Bend Presbytery (“Presbytery”) in the Conference. On October 14, 2000, the Presbytery initiated a review of Graham under the “care and oversight review” provisions of the United Church By-laws. After that review, Presbytery suspended Graham from functioning as a ministry personnel. Graham then applied to the court for a judicial review of the decisions. This review was granted and the court quashed the decisions for breaches of natural justice and procedural fairness, in particular, for failing to provide Graham with details of the allegations against her. On April 20, 2002, Presbytery requested the Conference to conduct a formal hearing into the circumstances. A decision was made to order a formal hearing. Graham requested that her membership be transferred to the Simcoe Presbytery in Ontario. This was denied. Graham then brought an application seeking judicial review and the quashing of the Order by the Conference which directed a formal hearing into her conduct.
The court reviewed the Manual of the United Church of Canada which contains the Basis of Union, its doctrine, governing principles, statutes, and by-laws. This manual provided that Presbytery had operational oversight of pastoral charges within particular geographic areas. The Conference oversees Presbyteries within its geographic boundary.
The first issue reviewed was whether the Conference had jurisdiction to initiate the disciplinary process where steps had already been taken by the Presbytery under the “care and oversight” provisions. The court reviewed the Manual and noted that the Conference had a general concurrent jurisdiction with Presbytery over discipline and the oversight of ministry personnel through section 420(d). Therefore, the court concluded that the Conference had jurisdiction to order a formal hearing with respect to ministry personnel. Graham then argued that the Conference was precluded from proceeding with discipline procedures as Presbytery had already initiated “care and oversight” proceedings. The court rejected this argument and held that the election of one process did not bar resort to the other process. The court further held that the previous judicial review decision did not impair the Conference’s current ability to order a formal hearing at this time. The court noted that the earlier judicial review decision had not specifically prohibited any further action with respect to Graham by the Church. The court further held that the jurisdiction to undertake this review could be regained by instituting fresh process. The court rejected Graham’s arguments that a reasonable apprehension of bias should prevent the formal hearing from proceeding, noting that such concerns should be challenged at the formal hearing rather than before.
In the result, the court dismissed Graham’s application for judicial review and ordered that the formal hearing with respect to Graham could proceed.
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