Administrative law – Charter of Rights – Discrimination – Human rights complaints – Language rights – Judicial review application – Quasi-judicial tribunals – Jurisdiction – Appeal process – Compliance with legislation – Remedies – Charter relief
Okwuobi v. Lester B. Pearson School Board; Casimir v. Quebec (Attorney General); Zorilla v. Quebec (Attorney General),  S.C.J. No. 16, Supreme Court of Canada, March 31, 2005, McLachlin C.J. and Major, Bastarache, Binnie, LeBel, Deschamps and Fish JJ.
The Appellant parents sought access for their children to public instruction in English in Quebec pursuant to section 73 of the Charter of the French Language. They attempted to bypass the administrative appeal process set out in that Act by seeking injunctive and declaratory relief in the Superior Court of Quebec. The Quebec Court of Appeal subsequently concluded that the Administrative Tribunal of Quebec (“ATQ”) had jurisdiction to hear the claims for minority language education, and that the administrative appeal process could not be circumvented.
The Supreme Court of Canada upheld this decision and dismissed the appeals. The court held that the Appellants did not have the right to bypass the ATQ since it had exclusive jurisdiction to hear appeals in respect of entitlement to minority language education. It was clear that the Quebec legislature intended to confer on the ATQ’s exclusive jurisdiction over all disputes relating to section 73 of the Charter of French Language (“Act”). The overall structure of the ATQ was that of a highly sophisticated quasi-judicial body which indicated that the legislature intended to have the ATQ deal with all legal issues, including those of a constitutional nature. The absence of a particular remedy was not a reason to circumvent the administrative process. Although the ATQ could not grant injunctive relief, the broad wording of section 74 of the Act respecting administrative justice indicated an intention on the part of the Quebec legislature to grant the ATQ the remedial authority needed to safeguard the rights of the parties.
In light of the exclusive jurisdiction and broad powers accorded to the ATQ, the Superior Court should exercise discretion to award injunctive relief in minority language education claims and should only do so to complement, not to weaken, the administrative process. However, despite the conferral by the legislature on the ATQ of remedial power with respect to constitutional rights, the residual inherent jurisdiction of the Superior Court remained available to hear direct constitutional challenges to a legislative scheme in order to provide the appropriate and just remedy where required.
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