January 13, 2014

Adequacy of reasons and conflicting evidence

Administrative Law
Professional Regulation

Disciplinary hearing panels often face conflicts in the evidence before them, such as where a registrant denies the conduct that a complainant says occurred. The case law demonstrates that a hearing panel need not address every conflict in the evidence. In some circumstances, though, a failure to resolve conflicting evidence will make a panel’s decision susceptible to challenge. The important question for a hearing panel is when it should resolve conflicting evidence. A new case from the B.C. Court of Appeal, Whyte v. British Columbia (Superintendent of Motor Vehicles), 2013 BCCA 454, provides some guidance.

In the Whyte case, the court overturned the decision of an adjudicator who had not considered the significance of conflicting evidence that, in the court’s view, the adjudicator was reasonably required to consider in making the material finding in the case. The material finding related to whether Mr. Whyte was a “driver” within the meaning of the relevant legislative scheme. [13] The adjudicator could not reach a reasonably supportable conclusion without considering that evidence.

Adjudicator’s decision: Mr. Whyte received a driving prohibition under s. 215.41 of the Motor Vehicle Act, R.S. B.C. 1996, c. 318 (the “MVA”). [1] The adjudicator was required to confirm the driving prohibition if he was satisfied that Mr. Whyte was a driver, or a person having the care or control of a motor vehicle on a highway whether or not the motor vehicle is in motion. [3] The adjudicator faced significant conflicts in the evidence, between the affidavits provided by Mr. Whyte and the report from the police officer who issued the prohibition. [4]

The police officer described Mr. Whyte as being the driver and sole occupant of his vehicle, which was running, with the keys in the ignition. Mr. Whyte asserted that he was sitting in the driver’s seat, but that the plan was for a friend to drive him, and that the keys were in the centre console, with the engine not running. Their evidence also conflicted in regard to how many police officers attended, as Mr. Whyte alleged that three additional police officers were present. The adjudicator decided that he did not need to resolve the conflicts in the evidence. [7]

Chambers decision: The Chambers judge quashed the adjudicator’s order, finding that “no adjudicator acting reasonably could have reached a decision in this case without considering the implications of the conflicts in the evidence on these critical points”. The matter was returned for a new hearing, and the adjudicator was ordered to grapple with the conflicting evidence. [5]

Court of Appeal decision: The court confirmed that a trier of fact is not required to explicitly resolve all conflicts in the evidence, make explicit findings one each constituent element leading to a conclusion, address every argument or lay bare every step in the chain of reasoning leading to a result. [18] However, a court will be entitled to interfere where the route to a decision is demonstrably unreasonable, even where the ultimate findings might be capable of being supported by the record. [11]

The court agreed with the Chambers judge that there was evidence in the record capable of supporting a finding of fact that Mr. Whyte intended to drive, but held that a finding could not properly be made without considering the significance of the conflicting evidence. [16] If the adjudicator had made findings regarding the conflicts in the balance of the evidence, he would not necessarily have reached the same decision. [17] The conflicts of evidence were significant in that they went to the heart of whether Mr. Whyte intended to drive; therefore, the adjudicator could have made a reasonably supportable finding only after considering the implications of those conflicts. [20]

Whyte v. British Columbia (Superintendent of Motor Vehicles), 2013 BCCA 454