Administrative law – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Farm Lands Board – Powers of tribunals – Compliance with legislation – Judicial review – Standard of review – Reasonableness simpliciter
Guinn v. Manitoba,  M.J. No. 279, 2009 MBCA 82, Manitoba Court of Appeal, August 4, 2009, F.M. Steel, R.J.F. Chartier, and A.D. MacInnes JJ.A.
The Respondent, Guinn, a resident of the United States, purchased two sections of land in Manitoba in 2004. The Farm Lands Ownership Act, C.C.S.M., c. F35 (the “Act”) restricts ownership of farm land by non-Canadian residents. The Farm Lands Ownership Board determined that Guinn was in contravention of the Act since he was a non-resident who owned “farm land,” as the term is defined in the Act. Guinn appealed the decision to the Court of Queen’s Bench, who held that the proper standard of review was one of reasonableness. The Court allowed the appeal on the basis that because the Board had no knowledge or expertise in the area, very little deference needed to be shown to its decision.
The Court of Appeal affirmed that on review the role of an appellate court is to determine whether the reviewing judge chose and applied the correct standard of review, and in the event that he has not, to assess the administrative body’s decision in light of the correct standard of review.
The Court of Appeal agreed with the motions judge that the correct standard of review was one of reasonableness, but held that after coming to this conclusion the judge failed to give the Board any deference. The motions judge’s statement that “very little if any deference need be shown to their decision” does not correctly describe how a court should review a tribunal’s decision on the standard of reasonableness. Once a standard of reasonableness is chosen, as long as the decision falls within a range of acceptable outcomes, the court must defer to the outcome chosen by the Tribunal. As part of its analysis, the Court of Appeal rejected an argument that the standard of review analysis is contextual and deference an elastic concept.
Finally, the Court of Appeal rejected Guinn’s alternative argument that the correct standard of review was not in fact reasonableness but correctness. A more deferential standard is appropriate because the Act is designed to balance competing policy objectives and give the Board wide ranging powers, the question before the Board was one of mixed fact and law suggesting a standard of reasonableness, and the specialized nature of the Tribunal.
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