Beyond freedoms: the administrative underbelly of the Trinity Western decision

By Sara Tatelman

The Supreme Court of Canada may have divided 7-2 on whether law societies must accredit Trinity Western University’s proposed law school, but the split was much narrower when it came to the nitty-gritty of administrative law. While the five-justice majority accepted the Doré/Loyola framework for judicial review of administrative law decisions, the other four justices called for varying degrees of reform.

The Doré framework applies when courts are reviewing the constitutionality of an administrative decision, such as one by a human rights tribunal, an immigration and refugee board, or a law society. Reviewing courts give considerable deference to the original decision-maker, given their subject matter expertise, and only over-turn their decisions if they are not reasonable.

On the other hand, when courts are determining whether a Charter-infringing law is nonetheless constitutional, the Oakes test applies. Unlike Doré, it clearly places the onus of proving the law is proportional on the government.

“The framework set out in Doré and affirmed in Loyola is not a weak or watered down version of proportionality – rather, it is a robust one,” the majority wrote (para 80).

“But saying [the framework is robust] does not make it so,” Côté and Brown J.J. snapped back in their dissent (para 304).

McLachlin C.J. (concurring) and Rowe (concurring), Côté and Brown (dissenting) J.J. all argued that judicial review of administrative law decisions should ask whether an individual’s Charter rights were infringed, rather than the more nebulous Charter values of the Doré framework and the majority’s decision. While rights are clearly outlined in constitutional documents, the majority suggests Charter values are those “the state always has a legitimate interest in promoting and protecting,” such as democracy, equality and human rights (para 41, citing Loyola at para 47).

Furthermore, rights are clearly distinct from other values. “To denominate an interest as a right is to recognize its normative primacy,” the Asper Centre noted in its 2013 intervention in Divito v. Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. “As such, a Charter right intrinsically ‘weighs’ more (by virtue of being a right) than something called an interest, value or entitlement. A Charter right, once established, also possesses normative priority. A rights bearer need not justify protection of a Charter right; rather, the state must justify infringing it.”

Côté and Brown J.J. pointed out that Charter values are unsourced, amorphous and undefined, subject to each judge’s personal interpretation and nothing but “mere rhetorical devices by which courts can give priority to particular moral judgements” (para 309).

The dissenting (Côté and Brown J.J.) and the concurring (McLachlin C.J. and Rowe C.J., in separate in decisions) justices were divided over whether the Doré framework was salvageable. The latter argued it was, as they saw strong parallels between Doré and Oakes.

Under Doré, the decision maker must find reasonable the balance between the Charter values and the statutory objective, which of course involves identifying that objective, Rowe J. wrote. This corresponds to the first step of the Oakes test, which is ensuring the rights-infringing statute has a sufficiently pressing and substantial objective.

The second step of Doré is determining whether the decision proportionately balanced the relevant Charter protections, he added. This corresponds to the proportionality test in Oakes, which analyzes rational connection, minimal impairment and the balance between beneficial and deleterious effects.

McLachlin C.J. added that the Doré analysis usually comes down to the minimal impairment and balancing questions.

The dissenting justices, however, were troubled there was no clear rationale as to why judicial review of administrative decisions requires a separate framework. They noted courts had used the Oakes analysis before Doré was decided, as well as several times since.

“… [T]he orthodox test — the Oakes test — must apply to justify state infringements of Charter rights, regardless of the context in which they occur,” Côté and Brown J.J. wrote. “Holding otherwise subverts the promise of our Constitution that the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Charter will be subject only to “such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified” (para 304).

The four justices were once again united when the question of burden of proof came up. They all found Doré, which has remained “conspicuously silent” on that issue (para 195), especially unsatisfactory in this regard.

In most administrative law decisions, applicants shoulder the burden of proof. But in Charter disputes, the four justices argue – as did the Asper Centre in Attorney General of Canada on behalf of the Republic of India v. Surjit Singh Badesha — that the justificatory burden must fall to the state actor. Otherwise, the Doré framework would provide significantly less protection than Oakes (para. 117, 197, 313).

And that, surely, is intolerable. As McLachlin C.J. wrote, “Canadians should not have to fear that their rights will be given different levels of protection depending on how the state has chosen to delegate and wield its power” (para 116).

Sara Tatelman is the Asper Centre’s 2018 summer research assistant.

Ktunaxa Nation: A Lost Opportunity

By Patrick Enright

 

Indigenous Religion and the Court: A Lost Opportunity to Revise Religious Freedom Under the Charter

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Canada delivered its much awaited freedom of religion decision in the case of Ktunaxa Nation Council v British Columbia. Put simply, we could have waited longer. The decision marks a lost opportunity for the Court to have revised its freedom of religion jurisprudence, and is an extraordinarily dismissive analysis for what stands as the first indigenous religion brought under the Charter.

The Ktunaxa Nation Council, the appellants in the case, challenged the BC government’s approval of a ski resort on what is believed to be their sacred territory called “Qat’muk.” It was alleged that, should any construction go forward on the land, the Ktunaxa’s religious rituals would be deprived of any spiritual significance, as the “Great Grizzly Spirit,” who infuses their traditions with meaning, would permanently flee the territory. The case therefore raised the novel issue of whether s 2(a) of the Charter covers so-called “sacred sites,” and if there is any role for government in preserving the spiritual traditions of religious practitioners.

The Court, however, side-stepped all of the difficult questions of the case to simply (and tersely) assert that s 2(a) does not protect the “object” of religious beliefs. As such, it does not protect the (believed) existence of Grizzly Bear Spirt. Full Stop.

On the fascinating question of whether religious practices are intimately connected to religious beliefs themselves? Nothing.

On the issue of whether the recent origin of a religious claim can affect the proportionality analysis on judicial review? Nothing.

On the matter of whether preserving a religious community is more pressing than an individual’s religious belief? Nothing.

On whether the building of a ski resort is a sufficiently pressing objective to override a constitutional right? Nothing.

Instead we were subjected to a mere four paragraphs of analysis, with the Court merely affirming that s 2(a) only covers “beliefs” and the “manifestation” of beliefs, rather than the beliefs themselves.

But this is a senseless distinction. For the Ktunaxa, the manifestation of their beliefs requires that Qat’muk remain undisturbed. There would simply be no point in practicing their faith if the spirit that animates these practices no longer is present. By way of analogy, imagine attending a Christian Mass with the knowledge that Yahweh is no longer listening, or that God has taken a sick day to watch football. There would, alas, be no point in attending such an empty ritual.

Similarly, for the Ktunaxa, their god has been effectively killed by the State’s action in this case; or, as one twitter user suggested, “Nietzsche would have been proud of this decision.”

By this, I do not mean to say that the Ktunaxa should have come out victorious on their appeal – indeed, I think the case was deeply problematic on the facts. But failing to at least find an infringement is to fail to grapple seriously with the intimate connection that indigenous peoples and indigenous religion has with land and land claims.

Only the concurring opinion seems to have understood this. Justice Moldaver’s concurring opinion – in contrast to the majority – is a deeply satisfying, cogent analysis that takes seriously the novelty and gravity of the Ktunaxa’s religious claims. Justice Moldaver’s opinion makes the rather obvious point that manifesting the Ktunaxa’s religious beliefs required that Qat’muk go undisturbed; that indigenous religion requires the preservation of sacred sites; that not all religious beliefs can be framed in terms of protestant religious practices; that the impact on the Ktunaxa’s beliefs is severe; and, ultimately, that the state’s objective in fostering a prosperous tourism market in the province is sufficiently important to uphold the Minister’s proposal.

This analysis is thoughtful. It is sound. And it is just.

As for the majority, the Court could have saved itself 115 unnecessary paragraphs, and hundreds of wasted sentences, by simply stamping the following two words onto their jurisprudential writ:

“Appeal Dismissed.”

Patrick Enright  is a 3L JD Candidate at the University of Toronto and a former Asper Centre Clinic student.

Ktunaxa case summary and further information available on the Supreme Court of Canada’s website here. For further reading on this case, please see University of Toronto Faculty of Law Professor Anna Su’s commentary: A Tale of Two Burdens and Patrick Enright’s previous summary of the Ktunaxa case in our 2017 Asper Centre Outlook Newsletter at page 12.