Social Rights and Administrative Justice

AuthorLorne Sossin and Andrea Hill
ProfessionDean, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University/Lawyer at Wildeboer Dellelce LLP, Toronto
chapter 11
lorne sossin* and andrea hill
When the topic of social rights a rises, people rarely think of administ ra-
tive tribunal s. Yet more people have their rights relating to housing, social
benef‌its, employment, and other human rights determined in tribun als
than in court s. While administrative decisions a re subject to the oversight
of judicial review, the barriers of cost a nd complexity mean that for the
overwhelming majority of people, an ad ministrative tribunal wi ll be their
f‌irst and f‌ina l recourse to protect their social rights.
Administr ative justice is def‌ined by its diversity. While courts in every
part of the country look rema rkably similar, few people can close their eyes
and picture what a landlord tena nt board, immigrat ion and refugee board,
or social benef‌its tribu nal looks like. Yet that is where a vu lnerable ten-
ant goes to stave of‌f eviction, where a refugee claimant goes to avoid de-
portation, and where a person whose benef‌its have been cur tailed goes for
recourse. There are hundreds of tr ibunals, at the federa l, provincial, and
municipal levels, involving thousa nds of full- and par t-time adjudicators
applying a myriad of stat utory schemes and regulatory regimes.
The diversity of administrative justice extends beyond the appea rance
and jurisdiction of tr ibunals. Tribunal s also vary w ith respect to proced-
ure — some are as adversaria l as courts while others adopt a more activist
approach to adjudication, and some involve inquisitorial processes which
* Lorne Sossi n, Dean, Osgoode Hal l Law School, York University.
Andrea Hill , Lawyer at Wildeboer Dellelce L LP, Toronto.
344 lorne sossin and andrea hill
place the decision maker in the pos ition of eliciting the necessar y informa-
tion from the parties. Hea rings may occur electronically, over the phone, in
person, or in writing. Appea rances before the Human Rights Tribunal may
stretch into weeks of complex evidentiary testi mony while some hearings
before the Landlord and Tenant Board take less tha n thirty m inutes. Fun-
damental huma n rights may be at stake in both.
Thus, any discussion of social rights in administrative justice must
confront the realities and implicat ions of this diversity. For example, to say
that the Health Professions Appea l and Review Board has jurisdict ion over
the Canadian Charter of Right s and Freedoms1 does not address the question
of how a self-represented patient might identify or develop submissions on
a Charter issue. To say that international human rights norms should con-
strain the decis ions of the Social Benef‌its Tribunal raises obvious problems
of how those norms are communicated to decision ma kers, who may or
may not be legally trained, or to parties coming before those decision mak-
ers. Complicating a rights-based approach to administrative just ice is the
fact that those decision ma kers are not protected by judicial independence,2
and there is a long history of par tisan and patronage appointments to tri-
bunals expected to act in an impart ial fashion. The assumption in cases
such as Nova Scotia v Martin (20 03),3 Tranchemontagne v Ontario (200 6),4 and
R v Conway (2010)5 — which a rm the jurisdiction of administ rative tribu-
nals over human rig hts legislation and the Charte r — is that it is up to the
legislature to determi ne the mandate of these adjudicative bodies, up to
government to decide their budget and appointments, and up to the courts
to correct serious errors when and if a pa rty seeks judicial review.
It is striking how out of touch with rea lity the Court’s analyses in those
cases appear to be — the m ajority judgment in each case simply f‌inds “prac-
tical considerations” such as a tr ibunal’s capacity to undertake the hea ring
and adjudication of rights, to be irreleva nt. While it may be irrelevant to the
question of jurisdiction, pract ical capacity is the def‌ining set of considera-
tions as to whether the rights i n question will be meaningf ul and accessible.
1 Pa rt I of the Constitution Act , 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (U K), 1982,
c 11 [Charter].
2 See Ocean Port Hotel Ltd v Br itish Columbia (General Manager, Liquor Control and
Licensing Branch), 2001 SCC 52, for discu ssion of the doctrina l distinction.
3 Nova Scotia ( Workers’ Compensation Board)vMartin; Nova Sc otia (Workers’ Compensa-
tion Board)vLaseur,2003 SCC 54 [Martin].
4 Tranchemontagne v Ontario (Dire ctor, Disability Support Program), 2006 S CC 14
5 2010 SCC 22 [Conway].

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