Monday, June 24, 2013

Abuse of power in public office

Gardner v. Canada (Attorney General), 2013 ONCA 423 holds:

[23]       Although Gardner has alleged several causes of action in her pleading, her principal claim is for abuse of power or misfeasance in public office.  In Odhavji Estate v. Woodhouse, 2003 SCC 69, [2003] 3 S.C.R. 263, Iacobucci J. discussed the elements of this tort.  At paras. 22-23 of his reasons, he wrote that the tort of misfeasance in public office can arise in two difference ways, which he called Category A and Category B.  The distinction is important, because as I read the motion judge's reasons, he concluded that Gardner's claim falls under Category A, while I conclude that it falls under Category B.  Iacobucci J. said:

What then are the essential ingredients of the tort, at least insofar as it is necessary to determine the issues that arise on the pleadings in this case?  In Three Rivers, the House of Lords held that the tort of misfeasance in a public office can arise in one of two ways, what I shall call Category A and Category B.  Category A involves conduct that is specifically intended to injure a person or class of persons.  Category B involves a public officer who acts with knowledge both that she or he has no power to do the act complained of and that the act is likely to injure the plaintiff.  This understanding of the tort has been endorsed by a number of Canadian courts: see for example Powder Mountain ResortssupraAlberta (Minister of Public Works, Supply and Services) (C.A.), supra; and Granite Power Corp. v. Ontario, [2002] O.J. No. 2188 (QL) (S.C.J.).  It is important, however, to recall that the two categories merely represent two different ways in which a public officer can commit the tort; in each instance, the plaintiff must prove each of the tort's constituent elements.  It is thus necessary to consider the elements that are common to each form of the tort. 

In my view, there are two such elements.  First, the public officer must have engaged in deliberate and unlawful conduct in his or her capacity as a public officer.  Second, the public officer must have been aware both that his or her conduct was unlawful and that it was likely to harm the plaintiff.  What distinguishes one form of misfeasance in a public office from the other is the manner in which the plaintiff proves each ingredient of the tort.  In Category B, the plaintiff must prove the two ingredients of the tort independently of one another.  In Category A, the fact that the public officer has acted for the express purpose of harming the plaintiff is sufficient to satisfy each ingredient of the tort, owing to the fact that a public officer does not have the authority to exercise his or her powers for an improper purpose, such as deliberately harming a member of the public.  In each instance, the tort involves deliberate disregard of official duty coupled with knowledge that the misconduct is likely to injure the plaintiff.

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