WALL v JUDICIAL COMMITTEE OF THE HIGHWOOD CONGREGATION OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES, 2016 ABCA 255
paperny, rowbotham AND WAKELING jJA
3.15: Originating application for judicial review
The Plaintiff, Mr. Wall, brought an Originating Application for Judicial Review of the Defendants’ decision to expel him from their congregation. The Plaintiff alleged that the expulsion affected his civil and property rights and it affected his livelihood as a realtor since more than 50% of his clients were Jehovah’s Witnesses who no longer communicated with him as a result of the expulsion. He further alleged that the Court of Queen’s Bench had jurisdiction to review the Defendants’ decision because he had exhausted all internal avenues of appeal, and further, that the process used by the Defendants did not accord with the principles of natural justice. Upon hearing the original Application, the Chambers Judge directed that the matter follow a bifurcated process where the first question to be determined was whether the Court of Queen’s Bench had jurisdiction to review the decision made by the Defendants. A different Justice heard the jurisdiction Application. The Justice concluded that the Court had jurisdiction to hear the Judicial Review Application because the expulsion had an economic impact on the Plaintiff and there were concerns about whether the Defendants’ processes adhered to the requirements of natural justice. The Defendants appealed.
The majority of the Court of Appeal held that Courts have the authority to conduct a Judicial Review of a self-governing organization where either the organization’s internal processes do not meet the requirements of natural justice or where the aggrieved party has exhausted the organization’s internal processes. Because the Plaintiff had alleged breaches of the rules of natural justice, the Court of Queen’s Bench had jurisdiction to hear the Application. Further, because the Plaintiff had exhausted all avenues of appeal within the Defendant’s organization, jurisdiction could be found on that basis as well. The majority of the Court of Appeal also held that finding jurisdiction based on the economic impact of the Plaintiff’s disfellowship was a reasonable result, given the evidence before the Chambers Judge.
In dissent, Justice Wakeling held that the Court of Queen’s Bench did not have jurisdiction to conduct a Judicial Review. His Lordship opined that, even if the Plaintiff’s assertions regarding the economic impact the disfellowship had on him were true, that the Court cannot compel individuals to do business with the Plaintiff, and that the Plaintiff does not have a property interest in his client base in these circumstances. Wakeling J.A. also noted that Rule 3.15 stipulates that a respondent in a Judicial Review Application must be “a person or body whose decision, act or omission is subject to judicial review”. Because the Defendants were an unincorporated and private association, Judicial Review over its internal governance decisions was not available. Justice Wakeling observed that, unless tied to some other form of breach recognizable at law, the membership disputes of religious associations do not fall within the jurisdiction of the Court.
The Appeal was dismissed.View CanLII Details