The appeal by workers from a decision quashing a Human Rights Tribunal’s decision to proceed with their human rights complaint was allowed where the Court held that the Tribunal’s decision to proceed was discretionary and was not patently unreasonable

Administrative law – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Human Rights Tribunal – Workers Compensation Boards – Discretion of tribunal – Workers compensation – Benefits – Policies – Validity and application of policies – Human rights complaints – Disability – Discrimination – Judicial review – Compliance with legislation – Jurisdiction of tribunal – Standard of review – Patent unreasonableness

British Columbia (Workers’ Compensation Board) v. British Columbia (Human Rights Tribunal), [2010] B.C.J. No. 259, 2010 BCCA 77, British Columbia Court of Appeal, February 17, 2010, C.M. Huddart, S.D. Frankel and D.F. Tysoe JJ.A.

The appellant workers suffered from chronic pain as a result of work-related injuries. Under the chronic-pain policy of the British Columbia Workers’ Compensation Board (“WCB”), all chronic pain awards were a fixed percentage of total-disability awards. The appellants claimed this policy contravened the Human Rights Code, R.S.C.B. 1996, c. 210. The workers were unsuccessful in challenging the policy before the Review Division of the WCB and sought to have the validity of the policy adjudicated by the Human Rights Tribunal. The WCB asked the Tribunal to dismiss the workers’ complaints without a hearing because the matter had already been dealt with by the Review Division of the WCB. The Tribunal declined to do so. The WCB then applied to the Supreme Court of British Columbia for judicial review of the Tribunal’s decision. The WCB’s application was granted and an order made quashing the Tribunal’s decision. The workers appealed from that order.

The Court of Appeal determined that the first issue that must be addressed is whether the Tribunal made the decision based on Section 27.1 of the Code which provides that a Tribunal member may dismiss a complaint if it is not within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal or has been appropriately dealt with in another proceeding. The Court noted that even if another body has dealt with the matter, the Tribunal has authority to either exercise or not exercise its discretion. By employing the term “may”, the legislature specifically recognized that the Tribunal could adjudicate a complaint notwithstanding that another body had already dealt with the substance of the matter. The Court did not agree with the WCB submission that allowing the Tribunal to hear and determine a Human Rights complaint that failed before another body “makes a mockery of the administrative law processes put in place by the legislature”. The Court noted that the Code clearly contemplated a subsequent adjudication by the Tribunal. The Court further disagreed with the WCB that allowing the Tribunal to proceed was tantamount to permitting it to exercise appellate jurisdiction over the Review Division. The Court noted that when the Tribunal was considering how to exercise its discretion, it was not reviewing the correctness of the previous decision but rather determining whether the other proceeding substantively addressed the issues from the perspective of the Tribunal, informed by the policy considerations within its specialized knowledge in administering the Code.

In reviewing the decision of the Tribunal member, the Court concluded that, as the decision at issue was discretionary under the legislation, it was subject to the patently unreasonable standard of review as defined by Section 59(4) of the Administrative Tribunals Act. In this case, the Court was unable to find that the decision of the Tribunal to allow the complainants to proceed to a hearing was patently unreasonable. There was no suggestion that the Tribunal member exercised her discretion arbitrarily, in bad faith or for an improper purpose. Further, there was no basis for holding that the Tribunal members’ decision was based primarily on irrelevant factors or failed to take any statutory requirements into account. In the result, the Court held that the members’ decision should not have been quashed on judicial review. The workers’ appeal was allowed.

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