St. Anthony Seafoods Limited Partnership v. Nfld. & Labrador (Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture)

In Fish Cases, Judicial Review/Crown Liability on (Updated )

This case involved a fish processing plant in Saint Anthony, Nfld. In 1998 the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture wrote to the processor and promised a multi-specie processing licence, including a licence to process snow crab. Although a licence to process shrimp was quickly granted, the Ministry never followed through on its promise to issue a snow crab licence.

Upon application for judicial review, the applicant argued, amongst other things, that (1) there was an abuse of ministerial discretion; and (2) promissory estoppel applied.

With respect to abuse of ministerial discretion, the court applied the functional and pragmatic approach from Baker v. Canada [1999] 2 S.C.R. 817. After applying the four part test, the court concluded that the patent unreasonable standard was appropriate because the decision maker was a minister upon whom considerable discretion was conferred by the statute (para 60). In applying the patent unreasonableness test, the court found that a defect in an evidentiary foundation for a decision could render the decision patently unreasonable (para 73). In this regard, the appeal court found that the Minister erred in, amongst other things, concluding that it had not made a prior commitment to grant a snow crab licence to the applicant (he incorrectly concluded the commitment had been made to a different corporate entity). Since the evidence showed that prior commitment was an important factor for the Minister, the court held that this error rendered the Minister’s decision patently unreasonable. However, rather than substitute the decision of the court for that of the Minister, the court remitted the matter back to the Minister for reconsideration in accordance with its decision.

With respect to public law promissory estoppel, the court applied the test from Mount Sinai Hospital Center v. Quebec (Minister of Health and Social Services) [2002] 2 S.C.R. 281 which requires that "there be no estoppel in the face of an express provision of a statute" (para 83 quoting from Mount Sinai). Given the broad discretion in respect of processing licences given to the Minister under the Fish Inspection Act, the court found that "the over-riding public interest expressed . . . precludes the application of estoppel" (para 90).

Leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada was refused at [2004] SCCA No. 548.