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Statutes and Statutory Interpretation: Benefits-Conferring Legislation

It has been a long-standing principle of statutory interpretation that public welfare, or more specifically 'benefits-conferring legislation' receives a more generous, pro-claimant interpretation than other legislative text. This principle was made plain in Rizzo & Rizzo Shoes Ltd. (Re) (SCC, 1998) at para 36:
36 Finally, with regard to the scheme of the legislation, since the ESA is a mechanism for providing minimum benefits and standards to protect the interests of employees, it can be characterized as benefits-conferring legislation. As such, according to several decisions of this Court, it ought to be interpreted in a broad and generous manner. Any doubt arising from difficulties of language should be resolved in favour of the claimant (see, e.g., Abrahams v. Attorney General of Canada, 1983 CanLII 17 (SCC), [1983] 1 S.C.R. 2, at p. 10; Hills v. Canada (Attorney General), 1988 CanLII 67 (SCC), [1988] 1 S.C.R. 513, at p. 537). ...
. Lin v. Weng

In Lin v. Weng (Ont CA, 2022) the Court of Appeal considered an issue of benefits-conferring legislation in an insurance context. The 'benefit' was the excepting of insurance non-coverage for a claimant who was unaware of criminal activities [Insurance Act 129.1]:
[39] The appellant’s other submission is that the presumption against retrospectivity does not apply to statutes that confer a benefit. In making this argument, the appellant relies on a statement to that effect in Brosseau v. Alberta Securities Commission, 1989 CanLII 121 (SCC), [1989] 1 S.C.R. 301, at pp. 318-20. The motion judge rejected this submission. He was correct to do so.

[40] In R. v. Bengy, 2015 ONCA 397, 335 O.A.C. 268, this court considered Brosseau, pointing out that the statement regarding beneficial statutes was obiter in that case, and that the decision had not been referred to in subsequent Supreme Court cases: at paras. 52, 55. More recently, in Tran v. Canada (Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness), 2017 SCC 50, [2017] 2 S.C.R. 289, Côté J. stated that this exception “is only triggered where the design of the penalty itself signals that Parliament has weighed the benefits of retrospectivity against its potential for unfairness”: at para. 50.

[41] In any event, s. 129.1 is not beneficial in the sense used in Brosseau. In Brosseau, the amending legislation involved the powers of the Securities Commission to protect the public. In that sense, the legislation was beneficial to the public. In this case, the legislation affects the rights of two parties to a contract. It is beneficial to insureds but detrimental to insurers.

[42] To the extent that there may be a special rule for beneficial legislation involving governmental bodies and the public, any such rule is not applicable in the context of the contractual rights of insureds and insurers. In addition, if such a rule may apply in certain contexts when considering retrospectivity, there is no authority to extend the rule to rebut the stronger presumption against the retroactive application of statutes, which requires clear legislative intent.
. Ontario (Labour) v. Sudbury (City)

In Ontario (Labour) v. Sudbury (City) (Ont CA, 2021) the Court of Appeal set out the generous interpretation due to claimants under public welfare statutes (here the OHSA):
[8] At the outset, the Crown reminds the court that the OHSA is public welfare legislation, and as such “should be read liberally and broadly in a manner consistent with its purpose”. There is no doubt that this is so; this court has consistently instructed that the Act must be interpreted generously, rather than narrowly or technically, in order to allow it to achieve the purpose of protecting employees’ health and safety. See, most recently, Ontario (Labour) v. Quinton Steel (Wellington) Limited, 2017 ONCA 1006 at paras. 19-20, and the authorities cited.


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