Supreme Court

Administrative Law

Resolution of unclear language in home statute generally best left to decision-maker

In 2008, appellant entered into settlement agreement with Ontario Securities Commission (“OSC”) whereby she consented to making of order in public interest against her. In 2010, appellant notified that Executive Director of British Columbia Securities Commission (“BCSC”) applying for order in public interest against her under s. 161(6)(d) of Securities Act (B.C.). Section 161(6)(d) empowers BCSC to bring proceedings in public interest against persons who have agreed with another jurisdiction’s securities regulator, by way of settlement agreement, to be subject to regulatory action. Appellant argued no order could be made because six-year limitation period in s. 159 of Act had expired. BCSC made order against appellant which was essentially identical to order made by OSC. BCSC implicitly interpreted s. 159 such that “event” that triggered six-year limitation period was date of settlement agreement rather than date misconduct occurred. Court of Appeal upheld BCSC’s decision and further appeal dismissed. Correct standard of review was reasonableness. Meaning of “the events” in s. 159 is question of statutory interpretation confined to particular context. No question of law of central importance to legal system as whole or that fell outside BCSC’s specialized area of expertise. Possibility that other provincial and territorial securities commissions may arrive at different interpretations of own statutory limitation periods not providing basis for correctness review. Resolution of unclear language in administrative decision-maker’s home statute generally best left to decision maker. Both interpretations found some support in text, context and purpose of statute and both interpretations were reasonable. Court must defer to any reasonable interpretation adopted by BCSC even if other reasonable interpretations exist. Administrative decision-maker has discretion to resolve statutory uncertainty by adopting any interpretation that statutory language can reasonably bear. Appellant did not demonstrate that BCSC’s interpretation was unreasonable. Therefore, no basis for court to interfere on judicial review.

British Columbia (Securities Commission) v. McLean (Dec. 5, 2013, S.C.C., LeBel J., Fish J., Rothstein J., Cromwell J., Moldaver J., Karakatsanis J., and Wagner J., File No. 34593) Decision at 209 A.C.W.S. (3d) 189 was affirmed.  235 A.C.W.S. (3d) 290.

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