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NATURAL JUSTICE - Duty of fairness - Bias - Procedural rights and requirements - Notice

Wednesday, January 20, 2021 @ 6:22 AM  

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Appeal by the Junior Hockey League from an order prohibiting it from continuing any proceedings or taking any further actions against the respondents in respect of a 2015 incident. The respondents were a hockey team, its coach and owners. In the 2015 incident, a fight broke out on the ice involving the respondent team. Its coach was accused of assaulting the assistant coach and a player of the other team. The appellant issued numerous penalties and suspensions to members of both teams and suspended the respondent coach indefinitely. An appeal to Hockey Canada resulted in his suspension being reduced to three years. Shortly after Hockey Canada’s decision, the appellant society initiated proceedings under its bylaws to suspend or expel the respondent team from the league due to the conduct of its coach. The respondents sought relief under the Societies Act, alleging the proceedings were conducted in a manner that was oppressive, unfairly prejudicial and contrary to the principles of natural justice. The chambers judge found the requirements of sufficiency of notice and the right to be tried by an unbiased tribunal were seriously breached warranting orders to cease the current and any future proceedings relating to the 2015 incident. The chambers judge found it was unclear how the other owner of the team or the team itself were implicated in the proceedings. The judge also found that the appellant’s president was a biased decision maker who should not have participated in a preliminary meeting of the Governors or rendered two important preliminary decisions, matters that were not cured by the hearing before the Governors. The appellant argued that the chambers judge did not consider and apply the legal consequence of the partnership relationship of the respondents as owners of the team.

HELD: Appeal dismissed. The issues in dispute were well beyond the liability of a partnership for the wrongful acts of a partner. They involved the interests of the team franchise and the owners in maintaining membership in the appellant. The franchise was not a partner, so it could not automatically follow that it was or should be liable for the wrongful acts of one of its owners. The determination of this proceeding based on the impact or interests of the players did not constitute a misapplication of s.102(1) of the Societies Act and was a breach of natural justice. The chambers judge properly considered the interests of the team and the two owners as being affected by the proceedings. The chambers judge was not wrong to conclude that the appellant never responded to the request for particulars or that notice of the basis for the team’s liability was not provided until the close of the case before the Governors. The evidence demonstrated that the appellant was never clear on the process it was instituting. In such circumstances, it was difficult to understand how a respondent could be said to have adequate notice of the case to meet. The chambers judge’s conclusion that the apprehension of bias by the participation of the appellant’s president in the preliminary decisions was not cured by the subsequent hearing before the Governors, especially when considered along with the lack of adequate notice, was amply supported in the record. The record clearly established the president was not impartial given his very strong views about the coach and his role in the 2015 incident. Knowing he was to be a witness at the hearing, he nonetheless convened the Governors to vote on whether the complaint should be dismissed or should proceed to a hearing. The chambers judge made no errors in her legal or factual analysis that would undermine her conclusions or the basis for the relief granted.

Surrey Knights Junior Hockey v. Pacific Junior Hockey League, [2020] B.C.J. No. 2005, British Columbia Court of Appeal, G. Dickson, B. Fisher and S.A. Griffin JJ.A., December 7, 2020. Digest No. TLD-January182021006