The subject of an unreasonable delay often arises in the immigration context. In one case that I am involved with, an individual was in Canada for 11-years before the Canada Border Services Agency expressed concerns that the might be inadmissible to Canada for previous involvement in a group accused of terrorism. In another case, an individual who had been in and out of Canada numerous times was suddenly denied entry to Canada because of a criminal conviction that occurred eight years ago. In both cases, the client asked whether the delay amounted to an abuse of process.
The leading court decision on this issue is Blencoe v. British Columbia (Supreme Court of Canada, 2000). There, three women filed complaints of sexual harassment to the British Columbia Human Rights Council. Due to delays the tribunal hearings were not resolved for 30 months after the first filing. The Cabinet Minister challenged that the 30 month delay was an abuse of process, an argument which the Supreme Court of Canada ultimately rejected and that the Charter was not engaged. Importantly, the Court found that a state caused delay, without more, does not warrant a stay as an abuse of process at common law, and that there must be significant prejudice.
The following principles emerged from that decision:
- The administrative process must be conducted in a manner entirely consistent with the principles of natural justice and procedural fairness.
- Unreasonable delay is a possible basis on which to raise questions of natural justice, procedural fairness, abuse of process and abuse of discretion.
- Delay, without more, will not warrant a stay of proceedings as an abuse of process.
- Administrative delay may impugn the validity of the proceedings where it impairs a party’s ability to answer the complaint against him or her – where memories have faded, essential witnesses are unavailable, or evidence has been lost.
- Where the fairness of the hearing has not been compromised, delay may nevertheless amount to an abuse of process, but few lengthy delays will meet this threshold.
- The court must be satisfied that, “the damage to the public interest in the fairness of the administrative process should the proceeding go ahead would exceed the harm to the public interest in the enforcement of the legislation if the proceedings were halted.
- If the delay has directly caused significant psychological harm to a person, or attached a stigma to a person’s reputation, such that the [administrative] system would be brought into disrepute, such prejudice may be sufficient to constitute an abuse of process.
- Determination of whether the delay is unreasonable is, in part, a relative exercise in which one compares the length of delay in the case at bar with the length of time normally taken for processing in the same jurisdiction and in other jurisdictions in Canada.
The Immigration Context
Beltran v. Canada (2011 FC 516) provides an example of the application of Blencoe in the immigration context. There, the Canadian Security Intelligence Services had determined that an individual was not a threat to Canada’s national interest. Fourteen years later, without any explanation, and without any explanation, a new individual expressed concerns, causing delays. The court also found that a new investigation caused undue prejudice to Mr. Blencoe. The Court was also critical of the government’s decision not to reveal certain information that it had kept confidential for twenty years, only to use it later.