On December 19, 2019, the Supreme Court of Canada released its long-awaited decisions in the administrative law trilogy: Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) v Vavilov and Bell Canada v Canada (Attorney General). In Vavilov, a seven-judge majority articulated a new framework for judicial review of administrative decisions that the Court applied in the three appeals. Justices Abella and Karakatsanis concurred in Vavilov, but criticized the majority’s court-centric, interventionist approach. As #vavilov trended on Twitter and administrative lawyers gathered eagerly at holiday celebrations across the country, the judicial review party was just beginning – the very next day, the Supreme Court applied its new framework in another decision, Canada Post Corp v Canadian Union of Postal Workers.
In this article, I will summarize the revised framework in Vavilov, identify changes and uncertainties regarding the standard of review, and argue that the reasonableness standard is not significantly altered.
The Vavilov Framework Explained
The Vavilov standard of review framework addresses two questions: how to identify the appropriate standard of review, and how to apply it. In brief, the standard of review is presumed to be reasonableness unless legislative intent or the rule of law require further scrutiny. A reasonable decision is characterized by a sound reasoning process and outcome, as well as a justified analysis of the relevant legal and factual constraints. A detailed explanation of this framework follows.