Administrative law refers to the body of law that governs the activities of administrative agencies of the government. Administrative law encompasses the procedural rules that these agencies must follow, as well as the substantive law that they must apply.

People often don’t realize just how much influence administrative tribunals have on their lives until they end up in a situation that requires them to interact with one of these specialized groups. To give a few examples: the Ministry of Transportation is responsible for issuing driver’s licenses; the Alcohol and Gaming Commission regulates the alcohol, gaming, horse racing, and cannabis retail sectors; and the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal exists to resolve claims of discrimination and harassment under the Human Rights Code

In this blog post, we will discuss a few things to know about administrative law in Canada, including information about the history and scope of this area of governmental power.

What Is Administrative Law

Administrative law is a branch of public law that deals with the exercise of a government authority. It is concerned with the relationship between public authorities, including the executive and legislative branches, and private individuals. When private individuals come to interact with administrative law, it is usually through the executive branch of government. Federal and provincial governments in Canada have different systems of administrative law.

Purposes of Administrative Law

Administrative law is a branch of public law that governs the relationship between the government and its citizens. It ensures that the government is accountable, fair, transparent, and efficient. It serves to check government power to ensure public authorities do not abuse it.

Administrative law does not apply to all activities of Canadian governments, however. It applies in situations where there is an interaction between an individual or group in society on one side with a public authority on another side (e.g., between police forces). 

What Are Administrative Tribunals and What They Do

Governments create administrative tribunals to make decisions on specific issues. These tribunals touch on various areas that affect citizens’ everyday lives, such as a labour or employment board, a provincial utility commission or a landlord and tenant board. However, they are not courts; their members are usually called “adjudicators.”

In most cases, the adjudicator’s decision-making power is similar to that of a court judge. They must apply the laws and give reasons for their decisions in writing. Some types of tribunals may provide mediation services instead of making decisions themselves.

How Administrative Tribunals Receive Powers

Elected representatives to administrative tribunals cannot simply pass laws once assuming office. Each administrative body is empowered to govern specific areas based on its enabling legislation, also called “delegated legislation.” Delegated legislation specifies the powers granted to the tribunal and how those powers may be exercised. This is called delegation of power. In other words, the provincial and federal governments delegate their authority to the executive branch of government that administers and enforces the law.

What Is Jurisdiction?

When an administrative tribunal uses the authority granted to it, it must do so within the scope of its enabling legislation. If an administrative tribunal acts outside that legislation, it exceeds its jurisdiction.

In administrative law, jurisdiction refers to a tribunal’s authority to inquire into certain matters and make an order. When an administrative tribunal makes an order outside of what is stipulated in the enabling legislation, it exceeds its jurisdiction. When this occurs, decision-makers refer to it as ultra vires, which is a Latin phrase meaning “beyond the powers.”

What Is Procedural Fairness?

Procedural fairness is crucial in administrative law and ensures that government agencies treat all parties fairly when making decisions about an individual’s rights or interests. Procedural fairness ensures private citizens receive fair and unbiased assessments of their cases in whatever forum the administrative decision-maker is operating.

Generally, procedural fairness provides all individuals with the right to an unbiased decision-maker, to be informed of the reasons for the decision-maker’s decision, and to have a meaningful opportunity to respond to the decision. This can vary on a case-by-case basis, however. The landmark decision Baker v Canada provides the following factors to determine the procedural elements required for fairness:

  1. The nature of the decision being made and the process followed in making it.
  2. The nature of the law that enables the administrative body to operate.
  3. The importance of the decision to those affected.
  4. The legitimate expectations of the person challenging the decision.
  5. The choice of procedure made by the administrative body itself.

Canadian Courts provide a vital Check and Balance on Administrative Decisions

In Canada, courts play an important role in ensuring that administrative decisions are subject to impartial scrutiny. Courts have the authority to review administrative decisions to ensure they were decided fairly and in accordance with the applicable laws. If a court finds an administrative decision unfair or unjust, it has the power to set it aside. This helps to ensure laws are applied equally and fairly to everyone and that the rights of individuals are respected.

Contact the Lawyers at Tierney Stauffer LLP for Skilled Representation before Administrative Boards and Tribunals

At Tierney Stauffer LLP, our experienced administrative law lawyers can help you navigate your administrative law issues with precision before boards, agencies, and tribunals at the municipal, provincial, and federal level. Our lawyers have extensive experience representing individuals as well as corporate clients before various public law bodies on a wide range of administrative issues. To discuss your matter with a member of our team, contact Tierney Stauffer LLP in Ottawa at 1-888-799-8057 or contact us online to schedule a confidential consultation.


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