Where a governmental body delegates powers to a third party and issues licences to employees of that third party to carry out delegated tasks, the awarding and revocation of licences is subject to the principles of administrative law and the requirements for procedural fairness. While such delegation is an authorization and the licensee holds a public office of sorts, this does not imply that the licence holder is a “public office holder”.

Administrative law – Judicial review – Permits and licences – Motor vehicle inspection – Public officer – Delegated authority – Compliance with legislation – Public safety – Procedural requirements and fairness

Societe de L’Assurance Automobile du Quebec v. Cyr, [2008] S.C.J. No. 13, Supreme Court of Canada, March 28, 2008, McLachllin C.J. and Bastarache, Binnie LaBel Deschamps, Fish Abbella, Charron and Rothstein J.J.

The appellant (“SAAQ”) has the exclusive jurisdiction in Quebec to ensure the mechanical safety of certain road vehicles, including vehicles of public utility, such as buses, mini-buses, taxis and driving school vehicles, through mechanical inspections and the issuance of compliance certificates. The respondents (“CVMM”) were a company  having the contract to carry out those inspections. An employee of CVMM (“Cyr”) was an accredited mechanic for the purpose of conducting vehicle inspections. Between November 2003 and July 2004, Cyr received four notices of breach relating to inspections that he had conducted. These notices advised that Cyr’s accreditation could be revoked. On July 21, 2004, Cyr was advised that his accreditation had been revoked. The respondents requested in writing that the decision to revoke this accreditation be reconsidered. That letter went unanswered. The respondents brought a motion for judicial review, and the appellants brought a motion for dismissal. The motions judge held that contract between the SAAQ and the CVMM was the means through which the authorization was granted, and that any remedies available to the respondents were to be found in the private law of contract, not in administrative law. It was held that the SAAQ was not subject to a duty of fairness, and any obligations owed by the SAAQ were defined in the contract. The Quebec Court of Appeal allowed the Appeal and held that the regime to which the respondents were subject incorporated aspects of public law and could not be considered to be purely contractual.

The Supreme Court of Canada held that the respondent’s responsibilities related directly to the protection of the public and did not preclude the application of the principles of public law, most notably those of procedural fairness. Accordingly, the existence of the contract could not be used by the SAAQ to avoid requirements of procedural fairness. The need for procedural fairness applied to any unilateral decision taken pursuant to SAAQ’s administrative authority conferred by the Highway Safety Code. The obligations of the SAAQ included the obligation, prior to making an order or an unfavourable decision concerning a permit or licence or other authorization, to first inform the citizen of its intention and the reasons therefore, to inform the citizen of the substance of any complaints or objections that concern him, and to give the citizen an opportunity to present observations, and where necessary, to produce documents to complete his file. Procedural fairness was not provided to Cyr, and in the result, the appeal was dismissed with costs.

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