Administrative tribunals are courts of competent jurisdiction under the Charter
Supreme Court confirms administrative tribunals with authority to decide questions of law are courts of competent jurisdiction for Charter purposes
In R. v. Conway, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed that administrative tribunals with the authority to decide questions of law are courts of competent jurisdiction under s. 24 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The appellant, Conway, was found not guilty by reason of insanity on a charge of sexual assault. After spending more than 20 years in mental health facilities, Conway brought proceedings before the Ontario Review Board alleging that the living and treatment conditions at the mental health centre where he was being detained breached his rights under the Charter. He argued that the Board should grant him an absolute discharge under s. 24(1) of the Charter.
The Ontario Review Board held that it was not a “court of competent jurisdiction” within the meaning of s. 24(1) and had no jurisdiction to consider his Charter claims. The Ontario Court of Appeal agreed with the Board.
The Supreme Court’s decision
The Supreme Court of Canada did not agree. It held that, with rare exceptions, administrative tribunals with the authority to decide questions of law, are courts of competent jurisdiction within the meaning of s. 24(1) of the Charter and can grant Charter remedies in the course of carrying out their statutory mandates. Whether a tribunal has jurisdiction to grant a particular remedy will depend on the intent of the legislature, having regard to the tribunal’s statutory mandate and function.
As a specialized tribunal with authority to decide questions of law, the Ontario Review Board was a court of competent jurisdiction within the meaning of s. 24(1) of the Charter. However, having regard to the Board’s statutory mandate to protect the public from dangerous offenders and to treat patients found not criminally responsible fairly and appropriately, it did not have authority to grant an absolute discharge to dangerous patients. Since Conway was considered to pose a threat to public safety, he could not obtain an absolute discharge from the Board.