Administrative law – Fisheries – Permits and licences – Compliance with legislation – Powers under legislation – Abuse of ministerial discretion – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Ministerial orders – Judicial review – Evidence – Standard of review – Patent unreasonableness
St. Anthony Seafoods Limited Partnership v. Newfoundland and Labrador (Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture),  N.J. No. 336, Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court – Court of Appeal, October 8, 2004, Roberts, Welsh and Mercer JJ.A.
This matter arose from the decision of the Respondent, the provincial Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture (the “Minister”) to deny issuance of a processing licence for snow crab to the Appellant. The Appellant appealed from the decision of the trial judge who refused to order the Minister to issue them a licence pursuant to an earlier commitment. The main issue on the appeal was whether there had been an abuse of ministerial discretion in the denial of the licence.
The court noted that where exercise of a statutory discretion was challenged, the court must apply the functional and pragmatic approach to determine the appropriate standard of review. The court examined the four factors in the functional and pragmatic approach to determine the appropriate standard of review. The court found it particularly significant that the decision-maker in this case was the Minister upon whom considerable discretion was conferred by the statutory language. Accordingly, the court concurred with the trial judge’s conclusion that the patently unreasonable standard was the appropriate one to apply in judicial review of the Minister’s decision.
The trial judge held that the Defendant considered the importance of the decision with respect to the snow crab licence to the Plaintiff and also considered all the appropriate factors in coming to its decision. The trial judge concluded that the Minister had considered the appropriate factors, and the court should not reweigh them.
The Appeal Court noted that neither the Fish Inspection Act, R.S.N.L. 1990, C. F-12, nor the regulations thereunder specified factors which the Minister must consider in determining whether to issue a processing licence. Nevertheless, where a Minister indicates the factors considered relevant, and such relevance is not disputed, then judicial review of that Minister’s decision must address whether any such factors were ignored or excluded on a patently unreasonable basis. The court held that the Minister’s determination that (a) there had not been a commitment to the Appellant to supply the licence, and (b) that the condition respecting commencement of processing operators had not been met, were both contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence. The court held that the prior commitment was a significant factor. The emphasis placed on the prior commitment argued against the conclusion that the Minister’s discretionary decision would undoubtedly have been the same had that factor received proper consideration. The court held that the trial judge committed a palpable and overriding error in failing to recognize that fact.
The appeal was allowed. The Minister’s decision was set aside and the matter was remitted to the Minister for reconsideration.
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