Bell Canada – Supreme Court of Canada’s reasons suggest that CRA should demonstrate using a textual, contextual and purposive interpretation

Before going on to find that an order made by the CRTC had exceeded the authority accorded to it by s. 9(1)(h) of the Broadcasting Act, the majority of the Supreme Court stated:

The scope of the CRTC’s authority under s. 9(1)(h) is to be determined by interpreting that provision in accordance with the modern approach to statutory interpretation. As this Court has reiterated on numerous occasions, this approach requires that the words of the statute be read “in their entire context and in their grammatical and ordinary sense harmonious with the scheme of the Act, the object of the Act, and the intention of Parliament” … .

This contrasted with the approach of Abella and Karakatsanis JJ who, in their dissent, stated that a reviewing court should “defer to any reasonable interpretation adopted by an administrative decision maker, even if other reasonable interpretations may exist”.

It is clear, in light of the majority decisions in Bell Canada and Vavilov, that the administrative decision maker is expected to provide a reasoned application of the textual, contextual and purposive interpretation that is mandated for the courts themselves where there is an interpretive issue. In Vavilov, the majority stated:

[W]hatever form the interpretive exercise takes, the merits of an administrative decision maker’s interpretation of a statutory provision must be consistent with the text, context and purpose of the provision. In this sense, the usual principles of statutory interpretation apply equally when an administrative decision maker interprets a provision. Where, for example, the words used are “precise and unequivocal”, their ordinary meaning will usually play a more significant role in the interpretive exercise … . Where the meaning of a statutory provision is disputed in administrative proceedings, the decision maker must demonstrate in its reasons that it was alive to these essential elements.

Neal Armstrong. Summary of Bell Canada v. Canada (Attorney General), 2019 SCC 66 under Statutory Interpretation – Ordinary Meaning.