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ABUSE OF OR MISFEASANCE IN PUBLIC OFFICE - Elements of tort - Deliberate and unlawful conduct

Friday, September 03, 2021 @ 5:16 AM  

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Appeal by the family of Meekis from an order that struck their claim as disclosing no reasonable cause of action. In 2014, 4-year-old Meekis, from Sandy Lake First Nation, died of complications from strep throat. The respondent Aniol, the coroner assigned to investigate Meekis’ death, did not attend in person at Sandy Lake First Nation during his investigation and declined to recommend an inquest into the child’s death. In 2016, the appellants brought a civil claim against the respondents concerning the coroner investigation into Meekis’ death. They alleged the inadequate and discriminatory investigation constituted misfeasance in public office, that the respondents Huyer and Wilson were negligent in their supervision of Aniol’s investigation, and that the coroners’ conduct amounted to discrimination based on race, ethnic origin and on-reserve residency contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter).

HELD: Appeal allowed in part. The motion judge erred in striking the misfeasance in public office and Charter claims. The appellants’ claim disclosed a reasonable prospect of success in establishing both the unlawful act element and the knowledge element of the tort of misfeasance in public office. The motion judge failed to consider how the appellants’ pleaded facts and allegations as to discrimination could satisfy the unlawful act element of misfeasance as the exercise of statutory discretion for an improper purpose. The appellants adequately pleaded circumstances from which knowledge of unlawful conduct could be inferred. The motion judge erred in failing to find the appellants adequately pleaded a distinction premised on adverse impact discrimination, by striking the Charter claim on the basis the appellants did not seek any benefit provided by law under the Coroners’Act and in concluding the appellants did not plead sufficient particulars to ground the s. 15 Charter claim. The appellants’ core allegations were sufficient to particularize the requisite threshold misconduct that engaged Charter damages for the purposes of a pleadings motion. It was not plain and obvious that judicial review would be an adequate alternative remedy to vindicate the appellants’ Charter claim. The motion judge did not err in striking the appellants’ claim for negligent supervision as there was an insufficient relationship of proximity between the appellants and the supervising coroners to form the basis of a private duty of care. The good faith immunity clause in s. 53 of the Coroners Act did not foreclose the claim for misfeasance in public office or the s. 15 Charter claim.

Meekis v. Ontario, [2021] O.J. No. 4026, Ontario Court of Appeal, R.G. Juriansz, K.M. van Rensburg and L. Sossin JJ.A., July 26, 2021. Digest No. TLD-August302021010