FCA clarifies duties of Canadian Human Rights Commission to investigate complaints

The Federal Court of Appeal has overturned a decision of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, in which the Commission rejected a human rights complaint against the Bank of Nova Scotia at the pre-investigation stage. The Appellant, Robert McIlvenna, had a mortgage with the Bank, and had applied for an additional line of credit to perform renovations on the mortgaged house, which was occupied by his son and daughter-in-law. The Bank refused the line of credit and called in Mr. McIlvenna’s mortgage, and he alleged the Bank took this action because it had learned that medicinal marijuana was being grown in the home under a Health Canada license. The Bank maintained that the reason for its actions was a violation of the terms of the mortgage. 

The Commission rejected the complaint under section 41 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which authorizes the Commission to refuse to deal with a  complaint without an investigation in certain circumstances. In its unanimous decision granting the appeal, the Court held that it was unreasonable for the Commission to have dismissed the complaint without an investigation, because there was a live contest between Mr. McIlvenna and the Bank as to whether the Bank made its decision on discriminatory grounds. Justice Stratas wrote on behalf of the Court: 

“At this point in its process, the Commission cannot acceptably or defensibly resolve the live contest between Mr. McIlvenna and the report of the Bank’s in-house counsel in favour of the latter, at least until it investigates further under section 43. But here, nonetheless, it purported to do so. In so doing, it must have engaged in some sort of weighing process that led it to favour the report of the Bank’s in-house counsel. This it cannot do. During the section 41 stage, a weighing process of the sort conducted here is no part of its task.”

This decision provides important clarification of the proper scope of the Commission’s decisions at the section 41 stage of its process, and confirms its duty to investigate when there is a live dispute regarding the material facts of the human rights complaint.  

Mr. McIlvenna was represented by Andrew Astritis and Amanda Montague-Reinholdt from our firm. A copy of the Court’s reasons for judgment can be found here.