Major League Baseball v. Cardinal, [2018] O.J. No. 469, 2018 ONSC 714, Ontario Superior Court of Justice, January 30, 2018, Kiteley, Linhares de Sousa, Pattillo JJ.

Douglas Cardinal, an Anishnaabe elder, commenced an application at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) in which he alleged that the name used by an Major League Baseball (MLB) team, the “Cleveland Indians”, and the graphic image used by the team constituted discrimination in the provision of the entertainment service of baseball contrary to the Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code”). The application named the MLB, the team, and Rogers Communications Inc. as respondents.

MLB brought an application to dismiss Mr. Cardinal’s HRTO complaint, challenging the jurisdiction of the HRTO to hear Mr. Cardinal’s application. In particular, they argued that issues pertaining to trade mark and broadcasting fall under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

The HRTO’s Vice Chair rendered an interim decision which confirmed that the matter would not be dismissed on a preliminary basis, but rather would proceed to a hearing on a full evidentiary record.

MLB sought a judicial review of the HRTO’s interim decision on the basis that the decision contained a fatal defect on a question of jurisdiction, finally decided a particular issue, and because MLB has no alternative recourse to challenge the interim decision. Mr. Cardinal opposed the application and asked that it be dismissed on the merits, or alternatively that the Court dismiss the application on the grounds of prematurity.

The Court considered relevant authorities, which generally confirm that, absent “exceptional circumstances”, courts are reluctant to review interlocutory decisions of administrative tribunals. The Court also considered that a “true jurisdiction question” focuses narrowly on whether or not the tribunal had the authority to make the inquiry, and that even if a true jurisdiction question arises, it is not by itself an exceptional circumstance that justifies judicial review prior to completion of administrative proceedings.

In this case, the Court confirmed that the HRTO has the authority to make the inquiry, as the HRTO clearly has the jurisdiction to entertain Mr. Cardinal’s application that he has experienced discrimination pursuant to the Code.

The Court commented that, in arriving at a decision as to “exceptional circumstances”, the court has to balance MLB’s allegation of exceptional circumstances in the judicial review application with the interests of Mr. Cardinal in the HRTO application to seek a remedy pursuant to the Code for perceived discrimination. The Court held that the balancing clearly favours Mr. Cardinal in the HRTO application. The application was therefore dismissed on the grounds of prematurity.