Special Status of Human Rights Legislation Defined

Insurance Corp. of British Columbia v. Heerspink (1982), 3 C.H.R.R. D/1163 (S.C.C.)

This is an appeal by the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia ("ICBC") from the decision of the British Columbia Court of Appeal which restored the decision of the Board of Inquiry in this case. The Board of Inquiry found that Robert Heerspink's insurance policy had been terminated without reasonable cause when it was cancelled by ICBC because Heerspink had been charged with trafficking in marijuana.

In three different decisions, the majority of the Court dismisses the appeal by ICBC and upholds the B.C. Court of Appeal decision restoring the Board of Inquiry ruling.

It was argued by ICBC that Statutory Condition 5(1) contained in s. 208 of the Insurance Act takes precedence over s. 3 of the B.C. Human Rights Code because the Insurance Act is particular and specific legislation, while the Code is of a more general nature and does not purport to alter any of the provisions of the Insurance Act. Statutory Condition 5 of the Insurance Actallows the insurer to terminate a contract by giving fifteen days' notice to the insured. Section 3 of the Human Rights Codeprohibits the denial of public services unless reasonable cause exists for such denial.

Ritchie J., with the Chief Justice and Dickson J. concurring, finds that s. 3 of the Code and Statutory Condition 5 under the Insurance Act can stand together as there is no direct conflict between them. Since there is no repugnancy, Ritchie J. rejects ICBC's argument that Statutory Condition 5 takes precedence. In addition, Ritchie J. finds that "reasonable cause" is not a question of law alone but a question of fact and consequently the Board of Inquiry's decision must stand since it was the trier of fact.

For these reasons, Ritchie J. dismisses the appeal.

Lamer J., with Estey J. and McIntyre J. concurring, by separate decision concurs with the reasons of Ritchie J. However, in his decision, he finds that human rights laws are, save constitutional laws, more important than all others. Consequently, while he agrees that in the instant case, the two statutory enactments can stand together, were there conflict, the Code would govern.

Martland J., in his dissenting decision, concurred in by Beetz J. and Chouinard J., would allow the appeal on the ground that the termination of Heerspink's policy did not constitute a denial of a service but an exercise of a contractual right. Martland J. finds that Heerspink was not denied a service, since he got his insurance policy, and s. 3 cannot go so far as to require insurers to show reasonable cause to exercise contractual rights.

The appeal is dismissed, with three Judges dissenting.

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