Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Separate Silos

One of the reasons offered by the concurring judges in Multani for merging administrative review and constitutional review (at least when an individualized decision was challenged) was that keeping them separate and distinct would be confusing to lower courts and litigants. That view never seemed particularly compelling to me: lawyers and judges often make and are faced with arguments that overlap and complement one another.

Interestingly, in Pridgen v. University of Calgary, where students punished for making nasty comments about a professor on a Facebook group successfully sought the quashing of the disciplinary measures against them, two of the judges on the Alberta Court of Appeal expressly avoided dealing with an argument based on the Charter, preferring instead to resolve the case on administrative law grounds. Even Madam Justice Paperny, who dealt with the Charter issue (the tricky part being whether it applies at all to universities), addressed the administrative law argument separately, agreeing that the disciplinary decision was unreasonable.

Her judgment is also notable for its treatment of the reliance by the decision-maker on hearsay evidence. She correctly noted that administrative decision-makers have more leeway than courts in permitting the introduction of hearsay, but that this leeway was exceeded in the present case:
[59]           It is generally open to administrative tribunals to admit hearsay evidence. But the relaxation of the rules of evidence does not relieve an administrative decision‑maker of the responsibility to assess the quality of the evidence received in a reasonable manner in order to determine whether it can support the decision being made. And in a subsequent judicial review, the reviewing court must consider whether the decision is “one of a range of possible outcomes”, based on the evidence that was received and assessed by the decision‑maker. It is not an error for a reviewing judge to consider the quality of the evidence and the manner in which it was assessed in conducting that analysis.

[60]           The evidence on which the University relies is not merely hearsay, it is double or triple hearsay of an extremely vague nature from an unnamed source or sources. It is simply not reasonable to conclude that “injury” within the meaning of the Student Misconduct Policy has been established on the basis of the information provided to the Review Committee, and the chambers judge committed no error in reaching that conclusion.
Thus in response to the students' argument that the decision did not conform to the University's own guidelines, the University was unable to demonstrate that its reasoning was cogent or that sufficient evidence existed in support of its decision, and its decision was unreasonable.

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