‘It’s in the mail’ not good enough: Court of Appeal

The Federal Court of Appeal held that a legally unsophisticated party can be barred for missing a deadline because they used regular mail to ask a lower tribunal for reconsideration. While the outcome is harsh for parties before the Canada Agricultural Review Tribunal, the court held the restrictive interpretation was entirely in line with the ordinary meaning of the regulation.
Here’s what happened: on Valentine’s Day 2011, a Quebec animal transportation company, Transport Giannone-Garceau Inc., received an unwanted valentine gift — a notice of violation — from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in the amount of $7,800 for an alleged violation under the Health of Animals Regulations.

As was its right under the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act, TGG filed a request for review with the Canada Agricultural Review Tribunal to have the notice reviewed. TGG chose to send its request by regular mail on the last day it had to file its request.

The tribunal received the transport company’s request a few days later, but after the limitation period had expired. Despite the clear Canada Post date stamp indicating the letter had been sent within the limitation period, the tribunal was obliged to reject the request based on the literal interpretation of its regulations, thereby extinguishing the company’s right to challenge the validity of the $7,800 fine that had been assessed against it.

TGG protested, asking the tribunal to reconsider its decision. The tribunal agreed to reconsider on the basis “of ambiguities in the Regulations.” Consequently, the tribunal requested a reference to the Federal Court of Appeal asking for answers to two reference questions:
(1) Whether the act and regulations permitted filing of a request for review by ordinary mail; and
(2) if so, whether a clear date stamp from Canada Post should be considered the filing date of an applicant’s request for review.

After oral argument from legal representatives of the tribunal and the attorney general of Canada, the appeal court issued its decision on April 26. The court held the regulations could not be construed as authorizing regular mail as a means of communicating a request for review to the tribunal, as the regulations do not include such a method as a “prescribed” manner of requesting a review.

If regular mail were read into the regulations, it would allow for “no independent means of establishing whether and when the mailed request was sent in the event that it does not reach its proper destination.”

The message from the Federal Court of Appeal to potential agriculture and agri-food offenders: regular mail won’t cut it. Instead register it, courier it, fax it, or even e-mail it, but don’t use Canada Post snail mail, particularly for items around Valentine’s Day!

Considering this auspicious date when the alleged violator got the notice, there was not a “whole lot of love” in the appeal court’s decision for this chicken transporter who might have thought that because its request was “in the mail,” its legal rights were protected. They were not.

Thomas Slade is a lawyer at Supreme Advocacy LLP, specializing in Supreme Court advocacy and complex legal opinion work. He was counsel to the Canada Agricultural Review Tribunal in the Federal Court of Appeal Reference re section 14 of the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Regulations.

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