The Supreme Court of Canada has issued a comprehensive decision that addresses the standard of review in connection with decisions of administrative tribunals. The primary case is Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration v. Vavilov and the decision is dated December 19, 2019. While the cases on review did not involve labour relations matters, the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada will, like its previous decision in Dunsmuir, apply to judicial review applications of labour arbitration awards.

The standard of “reasonableness” is confirmed in this decision, and it is described as a rebuttable presumption. That presumption can be rebutted by an express legislative provision setting out a different standard or by a specific statutory appeal mechanism. As well, the presumption that reasonableness is the standard of review is rebutted where the rule of law requires the application of the standard of correctness. Those instances would include constitutional questions, questions as to jurisdictional questions between administrative bodies and general questions of law of central importance to the legal system as a whole. With respect to labour arbitration, where the expertise of arbitrators in applying labour relations statutes has been recognized, issues of statutory interpretation will no doubt continue to be considered in judicial review applications. The Court confirmed that the “modern approach” to statutory interpretation, consistent with the text, context and purpose of the relevant statutory provision, must be employed.

While the Court noted that reasons are not required in all circumstances, decisions are to be justified, intelligible and transparent. This is consistent with past jurisprudence of the Court. The Court also indicated that while reasonableness is a single standard and rejected the contextual approach previously articulated in Dunsmuir, it is noted that the expertise of the decision maker remains a relevant consideration in conducting a reasonableness review.

The decision is intended to resolve considerable debate and to provide clarity with respect to deference from the Courts. It will be the subject of both academic debate and judicial analysis as the new Vavilov standard is applied in labour and other judicial review contexts.