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ADMINISTRATIVE LAW | SPPA / Fairness (Administrative)

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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). ...
. MacKenzie v. Ottawa Community Housing Corporation

In MacKenzie v. Ottawa Community Housing Corporation (Ont CA, 2023) the Court of Appeal considered the doctrine of 'benefits-conferring' legislation in statutory interpretation:
[55] Mr. MacKenzie argues that the City failed to consider that the Housing Services Act, 2011 is benefit conferring legislation and that it should therefore be interpreted generously. In Ali v. Peel (Regional Municipality), 2023 ONCA 41, an appeal heard at the same time as this appeal, this court considered a similar argument regarding the remedial nature of the Housing Services Act, 2011. As held in that case, the benefits conferred under this Act are different from those conferred by other types of benefit conferring legislation. There are a limited number of subsidies for public housing and a limited number of public housing units. Allowing Mr. MacKenzie to maintain his unit for an extended period of time while his bail conditions precluded him from residing at the unit has the effect of depriving another household that would meet the eligibility requirements for the unit. The respondents’ role is to make decisions about eligibility and continued eligibility in the context of these competing interests.
. Ali v. Peel (Regional Municipality)

In Ali v. Peel (Regional Municipality) (Ont CA, 2023) the Court of Appeal considers an appeal of a JR that dismissed the applicant's "request to be given special priority status on the waitlist for subsidized housing". In the course of it's ruling the court discounted that the Housing Services Act was benefits-conferring on the argument that social housing was a scarce resource, and the next person on the waiting list would still benefit:
[44] Ms. Ali argues that the Housing Services Act, 2011 is remedial legislation and that the Region was therefore required to interpret the terms “financially dependent” broadly. However, the special priority list is not just benefit conferring; it establishes a priority list amongst all persons entitled to the benefit, namely subsidized housing. In this context, as held by the Divisional Court, the Region must allocate scarce resources amongst competing interests. Granting special priority to Ms. Ali would mean that someone else on the waitlist will have to wait longer for subsidized housing. This is different from people applying for a benefit that is not limited in availability.

[45] Ms. Ali argues that the availability or sufficiency of subsidized housing should not affect how the Region interprets and applies the criteria for special priority housing. However, there would be no need for a regulatory regime governing special priority status if subsidized housing was not a scarce resource. In Vavilov, at para. 93, the Supreme Court instructs that a reviewing court is to consider whether a decision accords with “the purposes and practical realities of the relevant administrative regime”. In this case, as noted by the Divisional Court, the Region’s decision “accords with the purposes and public realities of the housing priority scheme, which enables applicants whose safety is at risk to separate permanently from their abuser as soon as possible.”

[46] The terms “financially dependent” cannot be looked at in isolation. They must be looked at in the context of the legislative scheme as a whole. The Region is responsible for administering subsidized housing, including the special priority list. The Region understood the historical context and purpose of special priority status. In that context, it was not unreasonable for the Region to decide that an employee/employer relationship was not the type of financial dependence contemplated by the Regulation. Therefore, in my view, the Region’s decision denying Ms. Ali’s request to be placed on the special priority list is reasonable.
. 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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