Administrative law – Police – Disciplinary proceedings – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Police Commission – Hearings – Appeals – Unreasonable delay – Test – Judicial review – Natural justice – Delay – Privative clauses
Watson v. Saskatchewan (Police Commission),  S.J. No. 407, Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench, June 16, 2005, Hunter J.
On December 18, 1999, Watson was involved in the apprehension of a person with mental health problems. Shortly thereafter, Watson was removed from his position as a Patrol Sergeant and assigned to “desk duty”. Following this, an internal investigation was conducted and on March 20, 2001, Watson was formally charged pursuant to the Police Act, 1990, S.S. 1990-91, c. P-15-01 wherein he was alleged to have committed discipline offences, including re-engaging in pursuit of a suspect when the field supervisor had terminated the pursuit and counselling and procuring subordinate members to violate The Regina Police Service Procedure Manual Pursuit Policy. It was also alleged that Watson made false, misleading or inaccurate oral or written statements.
On February 25, 2002, a hearing was commenced in front of a hearing officer. The hearing officer’s decision was delivered on February 28, 2003, and the hearing officer concluded that Watson had committed the offence of neglect of duty and breached the various directives alleged in the charge. On March 12, 2003, the hearing officer imposed penalties, including a reprimand, suspension without pay for two days and probation for a period of one year. On April 9, 2003, Watson filed a formal Notice of Application for Permission to Appeal pursuant to section 30 of the Municipal Police Discipline Regulations. After waiting in excess of one year for a reply from the Commission, Watson filed a Notice of Application to Quash a Conviction and Determine the Appeal on the basis of unreasonable delay.
The Court reviewed the procedures with respect to appealing discipline decisions set out in the Police Act and noted that strong privative clauses protected both the decision of the hearing officer and the decisions of the Commission. However, the difficulty in this case was that the Commission had failed to make any decision with respect to Watson’s request for an appeal of the decision of the hearing officer.
With respect to the issue of inordinate delay, the Court relied on the decision of Blencoe v. British Columbia (Human Rights Commission), 2000 SCC 44, where the Court indicated that unacceptable delay may amount to an abuse of process where the following requirements are met:
- where the delay impairs the ability to make full answer and defence so that the rights to a fair hearing have been prejudiced; and
- where the delay is so inordinate as to bring the administrative process into disrepute and constitute an abuse of process.
In this case, Watson claimed that the delay from the beginning of the incident to the application to quash exceeded four and a half years and that during the intervening time, he had lost the opportunity for advancement and wage increases. Further, Watson alleged that he was forced to deal with the stigma of being an officer still subject to a disciplinary hearing which affected his health and his relationships.
The Court noted that the disciplinary procedure set out by the statute included the possibility of an appeal but there was no appeal as of right. The Commission had jurisdiction to grant permission to appeal but this was a matter of discretion for the Commission. However, the Court held that this discretion must be exercised in accordance with the principles of natural justice. The court noted that the appeal machinery prescribed by the legislation was “dysfunctional” and found that the Commission’s delay caused significant psychological harm to Watson to the extent that the delay brought the administrative system into disrepute. This was considered sufficient to satisfy the Blencoe test.
In the result, the Court quashed the decision of the hearing officer on the disciplinary charge and penalty.
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