The Manitoba Court of Appeal recently published its decision in Stadler v Director, St Boniface on November 7th, 2017. In this decision, the Court has overturned its previous 1992 decision in Fernandes v Manitoba (Director of Social Services (Winnipeg Central), which once held that the Social Services Advisory Committee (SSAC) did not have the jurisdiction to hear Charter of Rights and Freedoms issues. Since this decision, the SSAC has been replaced with the Social Services Appeal Board (SSAB). The Court’s decision in Stadler asked whether Fernandes could still be considered good law, given the Supreme Court of Canada’s (SCC) 2010 ruling in R v Conway. Notably, this question is a matter of whether to view Section 24(1) of the Charter, which states that “anyone … may apply to a court of competent jurisdiction,” with either a broad or narrow interpretation.
In Conway, the SCC found that “the Charter is not some holy grail which only judicial initiates of the superior courts may touch. The Charter belongs to the people. All law and law-makers that touch the people must conform to it. Tribunals and commissions charged with deciding legal issues are no exception.” They went on to make note that “administrative tribunals with the power to decide questions of law, and from whom constitutional jurisdiction has not been clearly withdrawn, have the authority to resolve constitutional questions that are linked to matters properly before them. And secondly, they must act consistently with the Charter and its values when exercising their statutory functions.” Importantly, this means that the test for whether a tribunal can grant Charter remedies is (1) a matter of if the particular tribunal can decide questions of law, (2) if so, a matter of whether or not it can be clearly demonstrated that there was legislative intent to exclude the Charter from the tribunal’s jurisdiction, and (3) a matter of whether the tribunal can grant the particular remedy sought given the legislative intent of its particular statutory scheme.
“The Charter is not some holy grail which only judicial initiates of the superior courts may touch. The Charter belongs to the people. All law and law-makers that touch the people must conform to it. Tribunals and commissions charged with deciding legal issues are no exception.”
In the 1992 Fernandes decision, the Court had found that the SSAC lacked jurisdiction to decide on questions of law. In the recent Stadler decision, however, the Court applied the Conway test and found that the SSAB is routinely required to make legal interpretations, and as such, “questions of law play an essential part of making decisions relating to the social benefits and programs under the various legislative schemes which end up before the Board.” The Court went on to note that “the Board has been given the tools necessary to deal with determinations of matters where Charter rights might be affected, leading to the inference that the Legislature intended to empower the tribunal to apply the Charter.” Rightfully so, the Court also highlighted concerns about increasing access to justice as a strong reason for them being inclined to allow tribunals to decide on Charter issues. Lastly, the Court then refrained from deciding what particular remedies the SSAB would be able to grant for Charter issues that come before it. In its conclusion, the Court ultimately decided that “the Board does have the jurisdiction and the obligation to consider Charter issues, if properly raised before it.”
This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.