Robert Strickland and five other applicants sought to challenge the Federal Child Support Guidelines as unlawful. They argue that the Guidelines are not authorized by the Divorce Act. Unfortunately, this important issue, despite having been litigated all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, will have to be re-litigated. The Court dismissed the applicants’ claim because the provincial superior courts are a better forum for such an application because of those courts’ expertise in divorce and child support matters.
First, the Supreme Court held that a provincial superior court can hear and determine a challenge to the legality of the Guidelines where that determination is a necessary step in disposing of support proceedings properly before it. The Court rejected the applicants’ argument that the Federal Court has exclusive jurisdiction to declare federal regulations unlawful. As the Court explained, the Federal Court has concurrent jurisdiction with the provincial superior courts over claims against the Federal Crown. The Federal Court’s exclusive jurisdiction regarding judicial review of federal boards, commissions and tribunals is an exception to this concurrent jurisdiction. The TeleZone principal holds that the provincial superior courts have the authority to consider and rule on the legality of the actions of federal tribunals when doing so is a necessary step in adjudicating claims properly before the superior courts. So, in this case, the provincial superior courts can address the legality of the Guidelines if doing so is a necessary step to resolving a claim in a proceeding.
Second, the Federal Court exercised its discretion not to undertake judicial review because there is an “adequate” alternative remedy or forum. Some of the factors to be considered include: the convenience of the alternative remedy; the nature of the error alleged; the nature of the other forum which could deal with the issue, including its remedial capacity; the existence of adequate and effective recourse in the forum in which litigation is already taking place; expeditiousness; the relative expertise of the alternative decision-maker; economical use of judicial resources; and cost. The Supreme Court agreed that the provincial superior courts were such an adequate alternative, even though the remedies were not identical to those available at the Federal Court.
Though this case will likely only interest civil procedure or administrative law students, it offers some practical guidance. If there was any dispute that the Federal Court had exclusive jurisdiction to grant judicial review remedies regarding federal regulations (the parties, incorrectly, agree that it did), that debate should be over. Further, the Court has re-affirmed that even if the remedies are different, another court may be the adequate alternative, especially where that court has breadth or expertise in the subject-matter of the dispute.