Administrative law – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Municipal councils – Municipalities – Planning and zoning – Judicial review – Procedural requirements and fairness – Failure to provide reasons – Compliance with legislation
Eagle’s Nest Youth Ranch Inc. v. Corman Park (Rural Municipality, No. 344),  S.J. No. 354, 2013 SKQB 218, Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench, June 10, 2013, R.C. Mills J.
The applicant, Eagle’s Nest Youth Ranch Inc., applied to the respondent, Rural Municipality of Corman Park No. 344, for discretionary use approval of a ten-bed community care facility under the municipality’s Zoning Bylaw.
The Planning and Development Act, 2007, S.S. 2007, c. P-13.2 (the “Act”), and the municipality’s Zoning Bylaw provide an organized scheme for an application to allow discretionary use development. The municipal council has discretion to accept or reject a motion for approval. The Act mandates council create and consider specific criteria when exercising its discretion. Council, through the Zoning Bylaw, established those criteria. The applicant’s motion for approval was defeated. No reasons were provided. The respondent did not refer to any of the criteria on which the refusal was based.
The applicant applied to the Court of Queen’s Bench for an order compelling the respondent to provide written reasons for its decision. The application was based on two grounds: (i) the Act required written reasons in the circumstances and (ii) the respondent’s duty of fairness to the applicant required written reasons. The respondent opposed the application.
The court held the Act does not require written reasons where council makes a decision to reject an application for discretionary use. The provision of the Act governing discretionary use applications is distinguishable from other provisions requiring written reasons. As a matter of statutory interpretation, the court held the legislature intended to differentiate the obligation of council on an application for discretionary use from decisions in other circumstances under the Act.
The court held the respondent, as a municipality making an administrative decision affecting individual rights, privileges, or interests, owes a duty of procedural fairness. The content of that duty is informed by the criteria in Baker v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration),  2 S.C.R. 817. The nature of the decision, required under the Act and Zoning Bylaw to be based on specific criteria, favours reasons. The absence of an appeal procedure for a refusal to grant discretionary use approval favours reasons in order to permit judicial review. The applicant’s reasonable expectation that the respondent would base the decision on specific criteria favours reasons as, without reasons, the applicant is unable to determine whether those expectations have been met. The degree of deference owed to the decision-maker is lessened when the record does not disclose how the decision-maker reached its conclusion. The court held the respondent’s duty of procedural fairness included providing reasons for its decision. The respondent breached that duty by failing to provide reasons.
The court granted the application compelling the respondent to provide reasons for its decision.
This case was digested by Joel A. Morris of Harper Grey LLP. If you would like to discuss this case further, please feel free to contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or review his biography at http://www.harpergrey.com.
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