Anton Oleynik v. Attorney General of Canada

(Federal Court) (Civil) (By Leave)


Administrative law - Natural justice, Conflict of interest - Administrative law — Natural justice — Conflict of interest — Reasonable apprehension of bias —Application to Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for funding of research project dismissed — Adjudication and appeals committees consisting of members of university with which applicant had been involved in significant litigation — Internal appeals process manual defining what constitutes a conflict of interest — Can administrative decision-makers oust common law standards of natural justice and procedural fairness by establishing their own policies and standards? — Can courts rely upon new and additional evidence obtained, without notice to or knowledge of the parties, through their own internet research of publicly available information about the parties?.


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The applicant, Dr. Oleynik, is a tenured professor of sociology at Memorial University of Newfoundland who unsuccessfully applied to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (“SSHRC”) for research funding. He appealed the SSHRC decision through its internal appeals process. His main submission on internal appeal was that the adjudication committee chair, who was part of the senior management team of a university with which he had previously been involved in extensive litigation, was in a conflict of interest that was neither properly declared nor managed. The appeals committee upheld the scores originally assigned to Dr. Oleynik’s application, thus confirming SSHRC’s refusal to offer funding. Dr. Oleynik then alleged conflicts of interest arising also at the appeals committee stage. The Federal Court dismissed Dr. Oleynik’s application for judicial review, having found that no conflict of interest was established within the meaning of SSHRC’s appeals policy. The Federal Court of Appeal dismissed Dr. Oleynik’s appeal. The court recognized the limits of SSHRC’s policies and found that the appropriate solution was to apply the common law test for reasonable apprehension of bias through the policies. However, even on application of the common law, the court still found that Dr. Oleynik had not met his burden of establishing a reasonable apprehension of bias.