The respondent was named representative plaintiff of a class of disabled veterans who received pensions and other benefits from the Crown under three different statutes. These funds were administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs ("DVA") because the veterans were deemed incapable of managing their money. These funds were rarely invested or credited with interest until 1990, when the DVA began paying interest on the accounts. But Parliament chose to limit the Crown's liability for past interest by enacting s. 5.1(4) of the Department of Veterans Affairs Act which provides that no claim shall be made after the coming into force of the provision for or on account of interest on moneys held or administered by the Minister during any period prior to January 1, [page41] 1990 pursuant to any of the three relevant statutes. The class sued the Crown, alleging breach of fiduciary duty and claiming that the s. 5.1(4) bar was inoperative under the Canadian Bill of Rights, because it was inconsistent with the right not to be deprived of the enjoyment of property except by due process of law (s. 1(a)) and the right to a fair hearing in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice for the determination of one's rights and obligations (s. 2(e)).
The federal government failed to properly invest pensions of disabled war veterans. Parliament chose to limit the Crown's liability for past interest by enacting s. 5.1(4) of the Department of Veterans Affairs Act, which provided that no claim shall be made after the coming into force of the provision for or on account of interest on moneys held or administered by the Minister during any period prior to January 1, 1990 pursuant to any of the three relevant statutes. Authorson argued that the legislation was inoperative as it infringed the right not to be deprived of the enjoyment of property except by due process of law under s. 1(a) of the Canadian Bill of Rights, as well as the right to a fair hearing in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice for the determination of one's rights and obligations under s. 2(e).
The trial judge held that the Crown owed a fiduciary duty to the disabled veterans, and so was obliged to either invest the funds on their behalf, or pay interest, and that s. 5.1(4) of the Act was inoperative under the Bill of Rights. The Court of Appeal upheld the decision, which the Crown appealed.
- Do the quasi-constitutional norms in the Bill of Rights provide for procedural fairness in a legislative context?
Major, writing for a unanimous court, held that the Act was not inconsistent with the Bill of Rights. The due process protections in s. 1(a) do not require that the veterans receive notice and a hearing before Parliament prior to the passage of expropriative legislation. He states:
The only procedure due any citizen of Canada is that proposed legislation receive three readings in the Senate and House of Commons and that it receive Royal Assent. Once that process is completed, legislation within Parliament's competence is unassailable.
Due process protections cannot interfere with the right of the legislative branch to determine its own procedure. No adjudicative procedure is necessary for the non-discretionary application of a law to incontestable facts. Finally, while substantive rights may stem from due process, the Bill of Rights does not protect against the expropriation of property by the passage of unambiguous legislation. Parliament has the right to expropriate property, even without compensation, if it has made its intention clear and, in s. 5.1(4), Parliament's expropriative intent is clear and unambiguous.
The quasi-constitutional norms in the Bill of Rights are of no assistance in legislative decision making; legislative decisions are exempt from the common law duty of fairness.