Thursday, December 5, 2013

Supreme Court acknowledges judges are not always the best to interpret legislation

McLean v. British Columbia (Securities Commission), 2013 SCC 67 contains a somewhat surprising acknowledgement by the Supreme Court of Canada that Courts are not always the best bodies to interpret legislation.  While this deference may be sensible in a purely administrative law context, some might argue the refusal to determine the meaning of legislation is an abdication of responsibility.  The Court notes:

[32]                          In plain terms, because legislatures do not always speak clearly and because the tools of statutory interpretation do not always guarantee a single clear answer, legislative provisions will on occasion be susceptible to multiple reasonable interpretations (Dunsmuir, at para. 47; see also Construction Labour Relations v. Driver Iron Inc., 2012 SCC 65, [2012] 3 S.C.R. 405).  Indeed, that is the case here, as I will explain in a moment.  The question that arises, then, is who gets to decide among these competing reasonable interpretations?

[33]                          The answer, as this Court has repeatedly indicated since Dunsmuir, is that the resolution of unclear language in an administrative decision maker’s home statute is usually best left to the decision maker.  That is so because the choice between multiple reasonable interpretations will often involve policy considerations that we presume the legislature desired the administrative decision maker — not the courts — to make.  Indeed, the exercise of that interpretative discretion is part of an administrative decision maker’s “expertise”.

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