Application allowed. Peters First Nation Band Council is ordered to take all steps necessary to grant full Band memberships to the Applicants.
The Peters First Nation Band Council [“Council”] rejected the Applicants’ respective applications for band membership. This matter is the second application for judicial review seeking relief in connection with the denial of their memberships.
The first application was granted, but the Court declined to express an opinion about the merits of the Council’s decision in denying membership to the Applicants. However, it was found that the Council had acted unfairly by failing to inform them in advance of the factors that would be taken into account in deciding their applications. There was also concern regarding the Council’s failure to provide substantive reasons for its decision. The matter was accordingly remitted to Council for reconsideration, but once again, the applications were refused.
The Court was not able to ascertain the exact motives of the Council for denying Band memberships to the Applicants. It can assess, however, the Council’s stated reasons for denying those memberships to determine whether those reasons had the mark of rationality, intelligibility and justification. The focus of judicial review is on the reasons provided by the decision-maker in support of its decision. According to the Supreme Court of Canada, reasonableness review “must be on the decision actually made”, not the reasons that could have been made (Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) v Vavilov, 2019 SCC 65 [“Vavilov”]). Robust judicial review is about outcomes and a decision-maker’s reasoning process in getting to an outcome. Both must be reasonable in light of the legal and factual constraints that bear on the decision. A primary legal constraint is the governing statutory scheme. It is not open to a decision-maker to disregard the applicable rules. There is no such thing as absolute or untrammelled discretion (Roncarelli v Duplessis,  SCR 121).
A decision-maker may have some room to interpret the rules that apply to a matter before it but that exercise must be consistent with the text, context and purpose of the provision (Vavilov). Where the words employed are precise and unequivocal, their ordinary meaning will usually be determinative. It is not open to the decision-maker to adopt an “inferior” interpretation merely because it is plausibly available and expedient; or to “reverse-engineer” to get to a desired outcome (Vavilov). The express governing rules that apply to the Council’s membership decisions are contained in the Peters Indian Band Membership Code [“Code”]. The Code was adopted by the Band in 1990 and replaced the band membership provisions that had been previously contained in the Indian Act.
In rejecting the applications of the Applicants, it is clear that the Council did not consider itself bound by the membership criteria set out in the Code. It was not open to the Council to make up its own membership rules to supplement the explicit criteria that were adopted in 1990 when the Band took control of its memberships. The Council has acted unlawfully, unfairly and in bad faith in rejecting the membership applications of the Applicants. The Council has repeatedly shown itself to be unfit to decide these matters and there is no reasonable expectation that fairness and reason will prevail if this matter is remitted to the Council again. The Council is directed to take all the steps necessary to grant full Band memberships to the Applicants.