The court dismissed an application for judicial review and held that the Ontario Human Rights Commission had not breached the requirement of procedural fairness in not placing certain documents before the Commission and that the Commission’s exercise of discretion regarding a limitation period did not exceed its jurisdiction and was not in error

Administrative law – Human rights complaints – Discrimination – Disability – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Human Rights Commission – Limitations – Judicial review – Jurisdiction – Procedural requirements and fairness – Disclosure – Standard of review – Patent unreasonableness

Hassaram v. Ontario (Human Rights Commission), [2005] O.J. No. 29, Ontario Superior Court of Justice, January 7, 2005, G.D. Lane, J.H. Brockenshire and S.G. Himel JJ.

The Applicant was a medical doctor who became ill with a condition that made it difficult for her to continue to work in her field. Over time, her employer made a number of accommodations and adjustments to her duties and scheduling. Ultimately, the Applicant’s employers advised her, in May 2000, that they would not extend further accommodation for her medical problems and that certain issues with her work performance were regarded as unrelated to her health.

Fearing a risk of being dismissed, the Applicant decided to resign her position. She did so by letter dated June 5, 2000. Her resignation would be effective September 8, 2000. At the same time, she applied for long term disability benefits. She was advised, on March 15, 2001, that her application for disability benefits had been denied because she had been able to work on a full time basis before she left her employment.

The Applicant attended at the Ontario Human Rights Commission in March 2001 and filed a complaint on April 12, 2001 alleging that her employers discriminated against her because of her disability and failed to accommodate her. The Commission considered the complaint and, on March 3, 2002, rendered a decision to not allow the complaint to proceed. The Commission invoked its discretion under section 34 of the Human Rights Code that it would not deal with the complaint as the Applicant had filed her complaint more than six months after the events giving rise to it occurred.

The Applicant sought a reconsideration of the Commission’s decision under section 37 of the Code. Commission staff wrote a report that there had been a delay of four months past the six-month limit and that there was evidence of substantial prejudice to the Respondent. The Applicant made further submissions and the Commission’s legal staff wrote a further report outlining that the delay in filing the complaint was really only one month past the six-month limit and that there was no evidence of substantial prejudice. The Commission upheld its original decision based on its original reasons.

The Applicant argued that the Commission had breached her rights to procedural fairness because two documents submitted by the Applicant were not placed before the Commission. The Court referred to authority which provided that where the statutory authority has been exercising good faith and in accordance with the principles of natural justice, and where reliance has not been placed upon extraneous or irrelevant considerations, the court should not interfere. Here, considering the entire chronology and procedures undertaken by the Commission, the Court found that there was procedural fairness and that the Applicant had been given a full opportunity to respond and make submissions.

The Applicant also argued that the Commission had exceeded its jurisdiction and committed an error by invoking the six-month rule when the delay was less than that. Her position was that the six months should run from the rejection of her claim for long term disability benefits. The Court found that the Commission was entitled to make its own finding of fact regarding the timing of the complaint and when the six-month period was triggered.

The exercise of discretion made by the Commission would only be set aside if the court found that the Commission’s decision was patently unreasonable. This was held to be the standard to be applied by the court before they interfere with the exercise of discretion by a statutory authority. The Court noted that the standard of patent unreasonableness has been applied to decisions of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and that the courts have recognized the deference owed to the Commission on matters relating to its role and function under the Code, and its expertise in fact-finding and processing complaints under the Code.

The burden of establishing patent unreasonableness is a high one on an application for judicial review. The court held that the Commission had based its decision on the facts and it was reasonable on those facts to conclude that any failure to accommodate the Applicant’s disability occurred at the latest in May 2000 and culminated the Applicant’s resignation on June 5, 2000, effective September 8, 2000. It was reasonable for the Commission to reject the Applicant’s position that the delay in filing the complaint was due to her continuing discussions with her insurer.

It was also open to the Commission to hold that it was not satisfied that the delay was incurred in good faith, since the Applicant had offered no reasonable explanation for the delay. The Court noted that there were valid policy reasons for the legislature to create a discretionary power in the Commission, which it could exercise in certain circumstances to decide which complaints should proceed and there was no reason to interfere with the Commission’s exercise of discretion in this case.

In the result, the application for judicial review of the Commission’s decision was dismissed.

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