Administrative law – Municipalities – Planning and zoning – Appeals – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Municipal councils – Statutory provisions – Public interest – Judicial review – Failure to provide reasons – Procedural requirements and fairness – Charter of Rights – Discrimination
Congrégation des témoins de Jéhovah de St-Jérôme-Lafontaine v. Lafontaine (Village),  S.C.J. No. 45, Supreme Court of Canada, June 30, 2004, McLachlin C.J. and Iacobucci, Major, Bastarache, Binnie, Arbour, LeBel, Deschamps and Fish
The Appellants requested a rezoning variance from the Defendant Municipality on three separate occasions. In response to the first request, the Defendant referred the request to a committee, who commissioned a study with respect to the financial impact upon taxpayers if the Appellants’ request was granted. The study concluded that granting the Appellants’ zoning variance would result in increased property taxes to neighbouring residences. The Defendant therefore denied the Appellants’ first request, supported by detailed reasons. The Appellants applied on two subsequent occasions for rezoning, but the Defendant continued with its refusal. For the latter two applications, however, the Defendant offered no reasons. The Defendant took the position that since the legislature had conferred discretion upon it, it was not required to offer any justification for refusing the Appellants’ rezoning applications.
The Supreme Court of Canada held that a public body such as a municipality is bound by a duty of procedural fairness when it makes an administrative decision affecting individual rights, privileges or interests under the Charter of Rights. The Defendant owed the Appellants a duty of fairness. The content of the duty of fairness on a public body varies according to five factors: (1) the nature of the decision and the decision-making process employed by the public organ; (2) the nature of the statutory scheme and the precise statutory provisions pursuant to which the public body operates; (3) the importance of the decision to the individuals affected; (4) the legitimate expectations of the party challenging the decision; and (5) the nature of the deference accorded to the body. The court held that having regard to the facts and legislation in this case, these considerations required the Defendant to carefully evaluate the applications for rezoning variance and to give reasons for refusing them. Giving reasons for refusing to rezone in a case such as this served the values of a fair and transparent decision-making, reduced the chances of arbitrary or capricious decisions and cultivated the confidence of citizens in public officials.
The appeal was allowed, and the matter was remitted to the Defendant for reconsideration of the Appellants’ rezoning application.
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