The Court of Queen’s Bench holds that the Agricultural Operations Review Board is a specialized tribunal and that its decisions ought to attract deference from a reviewing court

Administrative Law – Agriculture – Standard of Review – Reasonableness

R.J. Farms & Grain Transport Ltd. (c.o.b. RJ Game Farms) v. Agricultural Operations Review Board, [2011] S.J. No. 286, 2011 SKQB 185, Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench, May 6, 2011, J.L. Pritchard J.

The applicant, R.J. Game Farms, operates a large bison farm on several quarter sections of land near Fairlight, Saskatchewan. In November 2010, the respondents, Teresa and Joanna Walker, took possession of a neighbouring section of land to expand their family sheep farming operations. The applicant alleged that the arrival of sheep on the neighbouring land would put its entire bison heard at risk because of the inevitable spread of malignant catarrhal fever virus from the respondents’ sheep to the applicant’s bison.

The applicant made an application pursuant to s. 13(2) of The Agricultural Operations Act, S.S. 1995, c. A-12.1, which permits “a person who is aggrieved” by a disturbance from an agricultural operation to apply to the Agricultural Operations Review Board (“the Board”) for a determination as to whether the disturbance arises from a normally accepted agricultural practice and, if not, what action should be taken to abate the disturbance. The Board declined to consider the matter on the ground that the applicant was not an “aggrieved person” as contemplated by s. 13(2) of the Act. The applicant sought an order quashing the Board’s decision not to hear the application.

The court considered whether the appropriate standard of review was correctness or reasonableness. It first considered the argument that the issue facing the Board was a jurisdictional issue and thus required a higher standard of review, but concluded that the issue related to standing rather than jurisdiction. The court also noted that the Act did not have a privative clause, but reasoned that this did not necessarily dictate that the correctness standard was appropriate. The Court emphasized that the Board has a very narrow and specialized mandate, and that the purpose of the Act is to ensure a “right to farm” where “normally accepted agricultural practices” are utilized. The Court held that this factor was compelling, and that the appropriate standard of review was reasonableness.

Applying the standard of reasonableness, the court held that the Board’s decision that the applicant did not constitute an “aggrieved person” should not be quashed.

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