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Statutes and Statutory Interpretation - Administrative Decision-Makers

. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) v. Galindo Camayo

In Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) v. Galindo Camayo (Fed CA, 2022) the Federal Court of Appeal considers statutory interpretation in an administraive context:
[52] Where, as here, the administrative decision maker has to deal with issues of statutory interpretation, certain additional considerations must be kept in mind by both the administrative decision maker and the reviewing court.

[53] First, the administrative decision maker must deal with any statutory interpretation issues by examining the text, context and purpose of the relevant provisions. Its analysis need not be the sort of formalistic statutory interpretation exercise that a court would perform: Vavilov SCC, above at paras. 92 and 119; Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) v. Mason, 2021 FCA 156 at para. 39. Due allowance must be made for the fact that Parliament has given the responsibility to interpret the statutory provisions to an administrative decision maker, not a court, and certainly not to the reviewing court.

[54] Second, in conducting reasonableness review, a reviewing court must be on guard not to engage in what is called "“disguised correctness”" review. It should not interpret the statutory provision itself and then use its own interpretation as a yardstick to measure the interpretation reached by the administrative decision maker: Delios, above at para. 28; Mason, above at para. 12. Reviewing courts can adopt specific techniques to avoid doing this: Mason, above at paras. 15-20, citing Hillier v. Canada (Attorney General), 2019 FCA 44 at paras. 13-17.

[55] Third, largely in pre-Vavilov jurisprudence, the Federal Court has offered interpretations of section 108 that shed light on when cessation under section 108 will be warranted. While in some cases, decisions of the Federal Court disagree with each other, it must again be remembered that under Vavilov, the Federal Court is not the body that interprets section 108. Rather, it is restricted to the role of a reviewing court.

[56] Nevertheless, the leading interpretations of section 108 offered by the Federal Court that are relevant to the case at hand should be considered and assessed by the RPD, with supporting reasoning. As a general matter, judicial interpretations of statutory provisions bind the RPD unless the RPD can distinguish them or explain why a departure from them is warranted.

[57] In the end result, in cases where the administrative decision maker has to consider the proper meaning of a statutory provision, the reviewing court must be satisfied that the administrative decision maker is "“alive [either implicitly or explicitly] to [the] essential elements”" of text, context and purpose and has touched on at least “"the most salient aspects of the text, context [and] purpose”": Vavilov SCC, above at paras. 120-122; Mason, above at para. 42.
. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) v. Vavilov

In Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) v. Vavilov (SCC, 2019) the Supreme Court of Canada revised fundamentally the Canadian law of standard of review in judicial reviews, and in the course of doing that expressed themselves on statutory interpretation in the context of administrative proceedings ["text, context or purpose"] as follows:
(c) Principles of Statutory Interpretation

[115] Matters of statutory interpretation are not treated uniquely and, as with other questions of law, may be evaluated on a reasonableness standard. Although the general approach to reasonableness review described above applies in such cases, we recognize that it is necessary to provide additional guidance to reviewing courts on this point. This is because reviewing courts are accustomed to resolving questions of statutory interpretation in a context in which the issue is before them at first instance or on appeal, and where they are expected to perform their own independent analysis and come to their own conclusions.

[116] Reasonableness review functions differently. Where reasonableness is the applicable standard on a question of statutory interpretation, the reviewing court does not undertake a de novo analysis of the question or “ask itself what the correct decision would have been”: Ryan, at para. 50. Instead, just as it does when applying the reasonableness standard in reviewing questions of fact, discretion or policy, the court must examine the administrative decision as a whole, including the reasons provided by the decision maker and the outcome that was reached.

[117] A court interpreting a statutory provision does so by applying the “modern principle” of statutory interpretation, that is, that the words of a statute must be read “in their entire context and in their grammatical and ordinary sense harmoniously with the scheme of the Act, the object of the Act, and the intention of Parliament”: Rizzo & Rizzo Shoes Ltd. (Re), 1998 CanLII 837 (SCC), [1998] 1 S.C.R. 27, at para. 21, and Bell ExpressVu Limited Partnership v. Rex, 2002 SCC 42 (CanLII), [2002] 2 S.C.R. 559, at para. 26, both quoting E. Driedger, Construction of Statutes (2nd ed. 1983), at p. 87. Parliament and the provincial legislatures have also provided guidance by way of statutory rules that explicitly govern the interpretation of statutes and regulations: see, e.g., Interpretation Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. I-21.

[118] This Court has adopted the “modern principle” as the proper approach to statutory interpretation, because legislative intent can be understood only by reading the language chosen by the legislature in light of the purpose of the provision and the entire relevant context: Sullivan, at pp. 7-8. Those who draft and enact statutes expect that questions about their meaning will be resolved by an analysis that has regard to the text, context and purpose, regardless of whether the entity tasked with interpreting the law is a court or an administrative decision maker. An approach to reasonableness review that respects legislative intent must therefore assume that those who interpret the law — whether courts or administrative decision makers — will do so in a manner consistent with this principle of interpretation.

[119] Administrative decision makers are not required to engage in a formalistic statutory interpretation exercise in every case. As discussed above, formal reasons for a decision will not always be necessary and may, where required, take different forms. And even where the interpretive exercise conducted by the administrative decision maker is set out in written reasons, it may look quite different from that of a court. The specialized expertise and experience of administrative decision makers may sometimes lead them to rely, in interpreting a provision, on considerations that a court would not have thought to employ but that actually enrich and elevate the interpretive exercise.

[120] But whatever form the interpretive exercise takes, the merits of an administrative decision maker’s interpretation of a statutory provision must be consistent with the text, context and purpose of the provision. In this sense, the usual principles of statutory interpretation apply equally when an administrative decision maker interprets a provision. Where, for example, the words used are “precise and unequivocal”, their ordinary meaning will usually play a more significant role in the interpretive exercise: Canada Trustco Mortgage Co. v. Canada, 2005 SCC 54 (CanLII), [2005] 2 S.C.R. 601, at para. 10. Where the meaning of a statutory provision is disputed in administrative proceedings, the decision maker must demonstrate in its reasons that it was alive to these essential elements.

[121] The administrative decision maker’s task is to interpret the contested provision in a manner consistent with the text, context and purpose, applying its particular insight into the statutory scheme at issue. It cannot adopt an interpretation it knows to be inferior — albeit plausible — merely because the interpretation in question appears to be available and is expedient. The decision maker’s responsibility is to discern meaning and legislative intent, not to “reverse-engineer” a desired outcome.

[122] It can happen that an administrative decision maker, in interpreting a statutory provision, fails entirely to consider a pertinent aspect of its text, context or purpose. Where such an omission is a minor aspect of the interpretive context, it is not likely to undermine the decision as a whole. It is well established that decision makers are not required “to explicitly address all possible shades of meaning” of a given provision: Construction Labour Relations v. Driver Iron Inc., 2012 SCC 65 (CanLII), [2012] 3 S.C.R. 405, at para. 3. Just like judges, administrative decision makers may find it unnecessary to dwell on each and every signal of statutory intent in their reasons. In many cases, it may be necessary to touch upon only the most salient aspects of the text, context or purpose. If, however, it is clear that the administrative decision maker may well, had it considered a key element of a statutory provision’s text, context or purpose, have arrived at a different result, its failure to consider that element would be indefensible, and unreasonable in the circumstances. Like other aspects of reasonableness review, omissions are not stand-alone grounds for judicial intervention: the key question is whether the omitted aspect of the analysis causes the reviewing court to lose confidence in the outcome reached by the decision maker.

[123] There may be other cases in which the administrative decision maker has not explicitly considered the meaning of a relevant provision in its reasons, but the reviewing court is able to discern the interpretation adopted by the decision maker from the record and determine whether that interpretation is reasonable.

[124] Finally, even though the task of a court conducting a reasonableness review is not to perform a de novo analysis or to determine the “correct” interpretation of a disputed provision, it may sometimes become clear in the course of reviewing a decision that the interplay of text, context and purpose leaves room for a single reasonable interpretation of the statutory provision, or aspect of the statutory provision, that is at issue: Dunsmuir, at paras. 72-76. One case in which this conclusion was reached was Nova Tube Inc./Nova Steel Inc. v. Conares Metal Supply Ltd., 2019 FCA 52 (CanLII)., in which Laskin J.A., after analyzing the reasoning of the administrative decision maker (at paras. 26-61 (CanLII)), held that the decision maker’s interpretation had been unreasonable, and, furthermore, that the factors he had considered in his analysis weighed so overwhelmingly in favour of the opposite interpretation that that was the only reasonable interpretation of the provision: para. 61. As discussed below, it would serve no useful purpose in such a case to remit the interpretative question to the original decision maker. Even so, a court should generally pause before definitively pronouncing upon the interpretation of a provision entrusted to an administrative decision maker.


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