This was an appeal from the National Transportation Agency's 1995 decision that VIA Rail's Special and Joint Passenger Tariff 1, section 13-D constituted an undue obstacle to the mobility of persons with disabilities. Section 13-D provides that an attendant who is capable of assisting a disabled person to get on and off trains and of attending to his/her personal needs throughout the trip is entitled to travel for free. Upon investigation of a complaint, the Agency concluded in 1994 that certain actions and practices of VIA constituted obstacles to the mobility of persons with disabilities, and that those obstacles were undue because they could have easily been avoided by the carrier. The Agency found that the provision of assistance during boarding and disembarking is the carrier's responsibility. Following receipt of VIA's submissions, the Agency issued a decision in 1995 that requiring the attendant to be capable of assisting the disabled person to get on or off trains was an undue obstacle to the mobility of persons with disabilities. The National Transportation Agency General Rules imposed a duty to give reasons orally or in writing. The Agency provided written reasons. VIA Rail appealed the findings on the adequacy of the reasons.
- Did the Agency err in law by failing to articulate adequate reasons for its findings?
Sexton, writing for a unanimous court, held that reasons serve a number of beneficial purposes. They focus the decision maker on the relevant factors and evidence, provide the parties with the assurance that their representations have been considered, allow the parties to effect any right of appeal or judicial review, and in the case of a regulated industry, provide guidance to others who are subject to the regulator's jurisdiction. The duty to give reasons is only fulfilled if the reasons provided are adequate. What constitutes adequate reasons will depend upon the circumstances of each case. Generally, to satisfy the obligation to provide adequate reasons, the decision maker must:
- set out its findings of fact;
- set out the principal evidence upon which those findings were based;
- address the major points in issue;
- set out the reasoning process; and
- reflect consideration of the main relevant factors.
The adequacy of the Agency's reasons must be measured with particular reference to the extent to which they provided VIA with sufficient guidance to formulate its tariff without running afoul of the Agency, and to which they gave effect to VIA's right of appeal by providing the Court with sufficient insight into the Agency's reasoning process and the factors that it considered. For the Agency's reasons to be considered adequate, they must set out the basis upon which the Agency found that the existence of the tariff constituted an obstacle, that they reflected the reasoning process by which the Agency determined that the obstacle was undue and include a consideration of the main factors relevant to such a determination.
Here, the Agency failed to demonstrate sufficient reasons for section 13-D posing an "obstacle". It neither articulated any definition of "obstacle" nor engaged in any reasoned consideration of the tariff provisions. In not answering how the requirement that an attendant be capable of assisting the disabled person they are travelling with to board and disembark a train constitutes an obstacle to the mobility of the disabled person, it erred in law. There were also a number of inconsistencies on the face of the reasons that supported this conclusion, in particular, failing to explain why the attendant's obligation to assist the disabled passenger in getting to the washroom does not amount to an obstacle while assisting in train boarding does.
Sexton also found they failed to provide sufficient insight into the reasoning process that it followed or the factors that it considered in determining that any obstacle provided by the tariff was undue. There was caselaw which could have been used with regard to what is "undue", which stated that the proper approach to determining if something is "undue" is contextual and must be defined in light of the aim of the relevant enactment. It may also be useful to assess the consequences or effect if the undue thing is allowed to remain in place. Here, the Agency appeared to only look at its perception of VIA's ability to avoid the obstacle, which was not sufficient. In determining whether the obstacle was undue the Agency should have first considered the aim of the enabling statute, the National Transportation Act, which provided that the nation's transportation network should be economic, efficient, viable and effective. The Act required that each carrier, so far as practicable, should conduct its business under conditions which do not constitute an undue obstacle to the mobility of disabled persons. The use of "so far as practicable", in addition to the use of the term "undue" provides further support for the view that the Agency was required to undertake a balancing of interests such that the satisfaction of one interest does not create disproportionate hardship affecting the other interest. With no evidence of such a balancing having taken place, he concluded the reasons were inadequate.
- The giving of reasons fulfills a number of functions:
- focuses the decision maker on the relevant factors/evidence;
- provides the parties with assurances that their evidence has been considered;
- allows the parties to effectively make appeals; and
- in regulated industries, provides guidance everyone who is subject to the regulator's jurisdiction.
- For reasons to be adequate, they must:
- set out any findings of fact;
- set out the principal evidence upon which the findings were based;
- address the major points at issue;
- set out the process of reasoning; and
- reflect consideration of the main relevant factors in the decision.