The Supreme Court of Canada set aside a Human Rights Tribunal decision on the basis that the doctrines of issue estoppel, collateral attack, res judicata and abuse of process applied to prevent the Tribunal from considering complaints that had already been dealt with by the Workers’ Compensation Board review division

22. November 2011 0

Administrative law – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Workers Compensation Boards – Benefits – Human Rights Tribunal – Discrimination – Judicial review – Administrative tribunals – Compliance with legislation – Estoppel and res judicata

British Columbia (Workers’ Compensation Board) v. Figliola, [2011] S.C.J. No. 52, Supreme Court of Canada, October 27, 2011, McLachlin C.J. and Binnie, LeBel, Deschamps, Fish, Abella, Charron, Rothstein and Cromwell JJ.

The complainant workers sought compensation from B.C.’s Workers’ Compensation Board (the “Board”) for chronic pain. The Board’s policy provided for a fixed award for chronic pain (the “policy”). The complainants appealed to the Board’s Review Division arguing that the policy, which set a fixed award for chronic pain, was patently unreasonable, unconstitutional and discriminatory on the grounds of disability under s.8 of the B.C. Human Rights Code (the “Code”). The Review Officer concluded that the policy was not contrary to s.8 of the Code and therefore not discriminatory. The complainants appealed the decision to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal (“WCAT”); however, new legislation was introduced which removed WCAT’s authority to apply the Code and thus review the complainants’ appeal of the Review Officer’s human rights conclusion. The complainants therefore filed new complaints with the Human Rights Tribunal (the “Tribunal”), repeating the same s.8 arguments about the policy that was made before the Review Tribunal. This was notwithstanding that judicial review remained available to the complainants. The Board brought a motion requesting the Tribunal to dismiss the complaints on the basis, inter alia, that they had already been “appropriately dealt with in another proceeding” pursuant to s.27(1)(f) of the Code. The Tribunal rejected the argument. That decision was appealed and the Court of Appeal restored the Tribunal’s decision.

The issue before the Supreme Court of Canada was whether it was open to the Tribunal to hear the complainants’ argument, that the policy was discriminatory, when the Review Division of the Board already disposed of the complaint.

The Supreme Court of Canada held that the Tribunal’s decision not to dismiss the complaint under s.27(1)(f) of the Code was patently unreasonable. Fundamentally, it failed to consider whether the substance of the complaint had been addressed and thereby failed to take this threshold statutory requirement into account. The doctrines of issue estoppel, collateral attack, res judicata and abuse of process underlie s.27(1)(f) and “[s]ingly and together, they are a rebuke to the theory that access to justice means serial access to multiple forums or that more adjudication necessarily means more justice.” As such, the Court allowed the appeal, without costs, and remitted the Board’s application under s.27(1)(f) to the Tribunal for reconsideration.

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