The Court found that a Human Rights Tribunal’s decision that additional information submitted by a Complainant, outside a limitation period, did not constitute a new complaint, was not patently unreasonable

Administrative law – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Human Rights Tribunal – Powers under legislation – Legislative compliance – Human rights complaints – Discrimination – Judicial review – Procedural requirements and fairness – Limitations – Standard of review – Patent unreasonableness

Lake City Casinos Ltd. v. British Columbia (Human Rights Tribunal), [2006] B.C.J. No. 115, British Columbia Supreme Court, January 17, 2006, Rogers J.

A Human Rights Complainant (the Respondent) had been terminated by the Petitioner. The Complainant submitted a complaint form to the Human Rights Tribunal, within the six-month limitation period, alleging discrimination because the Petitioner had terminated her employment due to her union activity and political beliefs. The Tribunal later sent the Complainant a letter asking her to expand upon her claim of discrimination. In that form, the Complainant abandoned her first allegations and alleged instead that she was the victim of discrimination based on physical disability.

The Tribunal then delivered the complaint to the Petitioner. The Petitioner argued that the revised complaint was so substantially different from the original complaint so as to amount to a new complaint which was, accordingly, filed out of time. The Petitioner applied to the Tribunal for an Order dismissing the complaint. The Tribunal decided to treat the second complaint as an amendment to the original submission, rather than a brand new complaint, and concluded that there were no grounds on which the complaint could be dismissed.

Rule 11 to the Tribunal’s Rules of Practice and Procedure sets up a screening function which the Tribunal may employ to ensure that a complaint is complete and to ensure that the complaint is within the Tribunal’s jurisdiction. The Panel of the Tribunal had concluded that a complaint must go through Rule 11 screening first, after which the Complainant may employ Rule 25 to amend it. The freedom of a party to amend their submissions under Rule 25 is limited by subsection 4 which provides that if a Complainant’s amendment to the complaint adds an allegation that occurred outside of the time limit for filing, the Complainant must apply under Rule 24 for a saving order.

The Court considered the appropriate standard of review of the Tribunal’s decision. Section 59 of the Administrative Tribunals Act, S.B.C. 2004, c.45, applies to its decisions. For the standard of review to be anything other than correctness, the decision must be in respect of an exercise of discretion, a finding of fact, or the application of natural justice and procedural fairness. The Court concluded that the subject of the Tribunal’s decision was the exercise of discretion by the Tribunal in the course of its screening process. The appropriate standard of review was patent unreasonableness.

The Panel’s conclusion had been that while the screening process is underway, a complaint may be altered as necessary to articulate the true nature of the complaint. When the complaint finally contains sufficient information to satisfy the Tribunal’s screening process, the final form of the complaint will be treated as if it had been received on the day the complaint was first filed. It might then be amended pursuant to and subject to Rule 25.

The Petitioner argued that the Tribunal’s decision carried an implication that an initial complaint may be used as a placeholder to protect the complaint from expiry of the six month limitation period. The Court did not find the implications of the decision patently unreasonable. The Tribunal had chosen to focus on the filing of a complaint as the critical date against which the six month limitation period is measured. The Tribunal had chosen not to focus on the substance of the complaint. It was entirely reasonable for the Tribunal to conduct its process in this way. The Tribunal’s screening method gave it the latitude necessary to deal with persons having human rights complaints, and to fully and properly carry out its mandate.

In the result, the Petition was dismissed.

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