The Court allowed an appeal of a judicial review application concerning a decision of the Chairperson of the P.E.I. Human Rights Commission to affirm the Commission’s dismissal of the Applicant’s human rights complaint. The Court ordered the Chairperson of the Commission to appoint a Human Rights Panel to deal with the Appellant’s complaint.

25. January 2005 0

Administrative law – Judicial review application – Standard of review – Reasonableness simpliciter – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Human Rights Commission executive director powers – Human Rights complaints – Discrimination

Ayangma v. Prince Edward Island (Human Rights Commission), [2004] P.E.I.J. No. 84, Prince Edward Island Supreme Court – Appeal Division, November 12, 2004, Mitchell C.J.P.E.I., McQuaid and Webber JJ.A.

The Appellant had applied, unsuccessfully, for a teaching position with a school board in 1991. He continually re-applied every year thereafter until August of 1998 when he filed a complaint of discrimination with the P.E.I. Human Rights Commission, alleging discrimination on the basis of race, colour, ethnic/national origin and age. After investigation, the decision was made by the Executive Director Delegate to dismiss the Appellant’s complaint. He had a recourse to have this decision reviewed by the Chairperson of the Commission. The Chairperson affirmed the dismissal of the complaint and the Appellant applied for a Judicial Review of the Chairperson’s decision. The judicial review application was dismissed by the Court below and that decision was appealed in this case.

The legislation provided that once a complaint is filed, that complaint would be investigated by the Executive Director and the Executive Director, after attempting settlement, could do one of four things, including dismissing the complaint, if the Executive Director considered that the complaint was without merit. If this happens, then a request may be made to the Chairperson of the Commission to review the decision of the Executive Director. The two sides in this case were in agreement that the test to be met by the Complainant at the investigative stage of proceedings is to establish a prima facie case of discrimination.

The issue before the Court of Appeal was the exact meaning of the test at the investigative stage and whether or not it had been met in this case, as well as the extent of the review process that the Court must engage in upon a judicial review of such decisions. In this case, the judicial review was a direct review of the decision of the Chairperson, who in turn had been reviewing the decision of the investigator.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the trial judge that the reasonableness simpliciter standard was applicable to the Chairperson’s decision. The issue was whether or not that standard was correctly applied.

The majority judgment noted that the role of the Executive Director was a very limited one. In the circumstances of this case, the Executive Director could consider the various hiring criteria of the school board in order to place the complaint in the overall context of the hiring situation and to consider the valid objectives of the process. However, the investigator could not weigh conflicting evidence and decide which it preferred as more credible and/or reliable. If the evidence indicates that such a weighing is necessary, then the matter must move beyond the decision of the Executive Director.

The majority held that reviewing courts must review the evidence and determine whether or not the administrative decision can be supported by that evidence. This is what is referred to as “a somewhat probing scrutiny”. Applying this standard to the administrative decision under review, the Court held that the trial judge had failed to apply the standard correctly and that, had he done so, the conclusions reached by the Chairperson of the Commission in his decision would have been found to be problematic.

The majority found that the evidence did not support the specifics of the Chairperson’s decision. The evidence suggested that the selection criteria used to eliminate the Appellant from consideration from employment had not been consistently applied to other candidates. There was also conflicting evidence which required an assessment of credibility and reliability. Only a hearing panel is empowered to carry out that function, while the Executive Director’s role is merely to determine if there is such evidence to bring to a panel. In the result, the majority of the Court held that the Appellant had established a prima facie case of discrimination.

The dissenting judgment held that the sole issue raised by the appeal was the degree of deference that the Court of Appeal ought to accord a decision of a reviewing judge in applying the correct standard of judicial review. The dissenting opinion noted that an appellate court must keep in mind the same public policy objectives that the reviewing court considered in its decision and that the appellate courts owe the same varying degrees of deference to the decisions of reviewing judges. The dissenting judge would have dismissed the appeal.

To stay current with the new case law and emerging legal issues in this area, subscribe here.