An appeal by the B.C. Veterinary Medical Association (the “Association”), from an order quashing the decision of the Association’s disciplinary committee and council, was allowed. The B.C. Court of Appeal held that although tribunals normally have the capacity to adjudicate on issues of bias, if the issue is being heard before a different body then this amounts to an abuse of process and is a waste of resources.

Administrative law – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Veterinary Associations – Human rights – Discrimination – Veterinarians – Disciplinary proceedings – Judicial review – Abuse of process – test – Jurisdiction – Institutional bias

Bajwa v. British Columbia Veterinary Medical Association, [2011] B.C.J. 1065, 2011 BCCA 265, British Columbia Court of Appeal, June 13, 2011, J.E. Hall, R.T.A. Low and K.E. Neilson JJ.A.

The respondent was a member of the Association. He identified himself as an “Indo-Canadian low cost” veterinarian and he was one of a number of Indo-Canadian veterinarians who filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal for being discriminated against by the Association. At the time of trial, the proceedings before the Human Rights Tribunal were still proceeding.

The respondent also became the subject of two professional misconduct allegations. The charges were heard by a three member inquiry committee of the Association. At the outset of the hearing, the respondent made a preliminary motion to dismiss the charges on the basis of, inter alia, institutional bias. The inquiry committee held that it lacked jurisdiction to decide the issue of institutional bias. It went on to find that all allegations, but one, were proven. The Council of the Association accepted the findings of the inquiry committee and imposed penalties on the respondent. The respondent appealed but lost. The respondent then applied for judicial review seeking to have the inquiry committee and the council’s decision quashed or declared void.

The central issues on the appeal were: (1) whether the Association’s governing council or inquiry committee had jurisdiction to hear and decide allegations of institutional bias made by the respondent or (2) whether such an inquiry would have amounted to an abuse of process. The B.C. Court of Appeal opined that the committee and the council would normally be considered to have the capacity to adjudicate on issues of bias raised at a hearing, notwithstanding that an extant legislative regime might not expressly grant such jurisdiction. Despite this, the Appeal Court nonetheless held that the issue of institutional bias was moot because it was being addressed in the complaint before the Human Rights Tribunal. As a result, the Appeal Court allowed the Association’s appeal on the basis that the respondent’s application for judicial review was not well founded and an abuse of process.

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