Lawyer calls on Manitoba justice to dismiss St. Andrews mayor's bid for judicial review

(Source: Josh Crabb/ CTV News Winnipeg)

Lawyers closed their arguments in St. Andrews mayor's bid for a judicial review, with the rural municipality's counsel calling on the court to dismiss the case with costs.

During a virtual hearing in Manitoba's Court of Queen's Bench on Thursday, Norman Boudreau, the lawyer representing St. Andrews Mayor Joy Sul, said the application for a judicial review revolves around two decisions made by council in December 2019—removing Sul as chair and spokesperson, duties typically held by a municipal mayor.

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"Both decisions were unreasonable and ought to be declared invalid," Boudreau said.

He argued the council did not have the jurisdiction to make the decisions, saying the bylaw they relied on to appoint a new chairperson and spokesperson did not comply with Manitoba's Municipal Act.

"These two decisions—taken together or separate—create in our client's opinion a dangerous precedent for not only St. Andrews, but all the municipalities in Manitoba," Boudreau said.

"Even if they had the power to do it—we say that they don’t—but even if they had the power to change the bylaw to the extent that they can choose whoever chair they want, the step of taking that decision was unreasonable."

Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench Justice Victor Toews asked if it is for the courts to regulate how the municipality conduct themselves in terms of administrative structure.

"The real question here is whether all of this is justiciable, or whether this isn't simply politics," Toews said.

Bernice Bowley, the lawyer representing the respondents, argued the case is an internal governance issue, adding council has a right to govern itself without the interference of the court.

"This is a political issue," she said, arguing that Sul has not lost a legal right.

Bowley cited the municipal act outlining the duties of a municipal mayor, which in addition to the duties of a councillor, include:

  • Presiding when at a council meeting, except where the procedures bylaw, the municipal act or any other act otherwise provides;
  • Providing leadership and direction to the council; and
  • Performing any other duty or function assigned by the council or by the municipal act or any other act.

Bowley argued there was a majority vote to enact the bylaw and the two resolutions including appointing a new chairperson and spokesperson.

Bowley said the bylaws and resolutions passed by the council were valid and should stand. She called on the court to dismiss the case with costs.

Upon closing their arguments, Toews told the lawyers it was an interesting and unusual case that poses the question, to what extent should the court be supervising the bylaws and resolutions of a municipal council?

Toews reserved his decision until a later date.