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. Ramsay v. Waterloo Region District School Board

In Ramsay v. Waterloo Region District School Board (Div Court, 2023) the Divisional Court considered administrative fairness under Baker principles [here, the 'importance' of the decision], in relation to whether a school board disciplinary meeting should be held in camera:
[34] With respect to his concern with the use of in camera proceedings, Ramsay submits that a key factor in determining the scope of the content of the duty of fairness is the nature of the statutory scheme and the terms of the statute pursuant to which the body operates. In this case, s. 207 of the Act requires that meetings of the WRDSB be open to the public, subject only to specific statutory exceptions that permit the use of in camera proceedings. These are:
(a) the security of the property of the board;

(b) the disclosure of intimate, personal or financial information in respect of a member of the board or committee, an employee or prospective employee of the board or a pupil or his or her parent or guardian;

(c) the acquisition or disposal of a school site;

(d) decisions in respect of negotiations with employees of the board; or

(e) litigation affecting the board.
[35] Ramsay argues that none of these exceptions applied to the complaint against him or were otherwise engaged. Hence, the principle of openness was not followed and his right to procedural fairness was breached.

[36] The WRDSB maintains that Ramsay was afforded adequate procedural fairness throughout. As articulated by the Supreme Court of Canada in Baker v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship & Immigration), 1999 CanLII 699 (SCC), [1999] 2 S.C.R. 817, at para. 27, considerable weight must be given to the choice of procedures made by the agency itself and its institutional constraints when assessing the requirements of procedural fairness.

[37] The WRDSB submits that decisions of a purely administrative nature, where a board is not acting as a tribunal which must deliberate and decide upon the rights of others, minimal procedural fairness is required. Decisions related to the enforcement of the Code of Conduct with respect to members of a school board, such as this decision of the WRDSB dealing with the conduct of one of its trustees, are predominantly administrative in nature.

[38] The WRDSB argues that, assuming that procedural fairness was owed to Ramsay, the factors set out in Baker would suggest that such fairness is on the lower end of the spectrum in these circumstances. The impact of the decision on Ramsay is nominal, and the sanctions imposed on him were minimal. The decision was not quasi-judicial in nature so as to require a very high level of procedural fairness. As the WRDSB points out, the Code of Conduct is explicit in stating that no formal trial-type hearing is to be conducted in enforcing the Code of Conduct. Rather, this process was designed to be an administrative one carried out by an elected WRDSB of Trustees empowered by statute to govern its own internal affairs.

[39] The WRDSB further submits that the use of in camera proceedings for deliberations was permissible under the applicable legislation. Section 207(2) of the Education Act allows for meetings to be closed to the public when, among other exceptions, the subject matter under consideration involves litigation affecting the school board. Since the delegate who was prevented from finishing her presentation commenced an application for judicial review as well as a civil action for damages against the WRDSB and its Chair, the facts involved with the complaint about the Ramsay were involved in litigation affecting the WRDSB. Further, the heart of the decision-making took place in the public sessions, where trustees publicly voted to find a breach of the Code of Conduct and to sanction Ramsay.

[40] The reasons for the decision in Del Grande v Toronto Catholic District School Board, 2023 ONSC 349 (Div. Ct.) illustrates the degree of procedural fairness a school board owes one of its trustees when enforcing its code of conduct in the context of alleged inappropriate trustee conduct. The Court stated (at paras 50-51):
As is evident from the process provided under s. 218.3, the process for determining whether a trustee has breached a code of conduct is not akin to a criminal process. The potential sanctions under the Education Act, including censure and the inability to participate in committees, are correspondingly weak…The process under s. 218.3 leads to a determination as to whether a trustee has breached the code of conduct and an appropriate sanction, and nothing more…

Under s. 58.5(1) of the Education Act, a school board is permitted to function as a corporation and “has all the powers and shall preform all the duties that are conferred or imposed on it under this or any other Act.” That provision reflects a legislative intent that school boards not be limited in conducting their affairs to those functions that are specified in the Education Act. Moreover, the Act does not dictate to the Board how it must conduct its affairs, rather, the Board is the primary determinant of its own processes.
[41] In my view, the June 6, 2022 meeting was permitted to be held in camera as the subject matter under consideration involved litigation affecting the WRDSB that stemmed from the delegation incident and its aftermath. This formed a significant part of the subject matter under consideration at the in camera meeting. It was “the triggering event [which gave] rise to the conduct which forms the primary basis for the Complaint” as found by the Integrity Commissioner to be the case.

[42] For this same reason, the WRDSB has filed a redacted Record of Proceeding with which Ramsay takes issue. The report of the Integrity Commissioner directly acknowledges that its contents arise from the delegation event which forms the subject matter of the related court application for judicial review and the civil action for damages against the WRDSB and the Chair. Similarly, the minutes of the in camera meetings were removed from the materials filed with the Court. There is no unfairness to Ramsay that results from this approach, nor any impediment to his raising of any argument on his own application for judicial review of the WRDSB decision in his case.



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Last modified: 14-12-23
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