An employee of the Health Care Corporation of St. John’s was unsuccessful in her application to set aside the decision of the Human Rights Commission not to refer her complaint to a board of inquiry. The Court held that the Commission exercised its administrative screening function in a reasonable manner. The legislative scheme in the Human Rights Code, R.S.N. 1990, c.H-14 required the Court to show considerable deference to a decision of the Human Rights Commission. While it may have been preferable for the Commission to have provided fuller reasons, it was under no statutory obligation to do so. The reasons given by the Commission adequately indicated to the employee that, following a thorough investigation and review of the evidence, her complaint did not meet the Commission’s threshold level for referring the matter to a board of inquiry.

22. April 2003 0

Administrative law – Human rights complaints – Evidence – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Human Rights Commission – Judicial review – Failure to provide reasons – Standard of review – Reasonableness

Spurrell v. Newfoundland (Human Rights Commission), [2003] N.J. No. 53, Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court – Trial Division, February 25, 2003, Adams J.

An employee of the Health Care Corporation of St. John’s filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission alleging sexual harassment by her supervisor. The Commission appointed an investigator who interviewed a number of people including those indicated by the employee who she claimed could support her allegations through similar fact evidence. The Commission decided not to refer the matter to a board of inquiry. Its decision read: “[t]he above-noted complaint was reviewed by the commissioners at meetings held in St. John’s on September 12th and 13th, 2002, and was dismissed. The Commission, after reviewing materials filed by you and the respondents and the report prepared by Commission staff, has determined that there is no reasonable basis in the evidence for proceeding to a Board of Inquiry.” The employee subsequently applied for an Order requiring the Human Rights Commission to refer her complaint to a board of inquiry.

The employee’s application was denied. The Court found that the standard of review was that of reasonableness. The Human Rights Commission was a statutory authority with a broad discretion and specialized expertise in the field of what might constitute a violation of human rights. The exercise of the Commission whether to refer a complaint to a board of inquiry for a full hearing is more an administrative matter than an adjudicative matter. The Court should not interfere in a decision of this kind unless it is clear from the record that the Commission has failed to consider some critical piece of evidence or has taken into account irrelevant considerations or has treated one of the parties unfairly in that it denied that party natural justice. Upon a review of the records, the Court found that the Commission had not acted unreasonably. It conducted a thorough investigation giving all parties the opportunity to make representations. It exercised its statutory mandate in a reasonable manner.

With respect to the sufficiency of the reasons, the Human Rights Code, R.S.N. 1990, c.H-14, did not require it. One could infer from the lack of statutory obligation to give reasons that the Legislature made a deliberate policy choice not to require the Commission to provide reasons in light of the administrative, screening role conferred on it. In the ordinary course, one does not expect to receive detailed reasons from a preliminary inquiry judge in making a decision whether there exists sufficient evidence to send a matter to trial.

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