Decision Date: June 6, 2000
Court: B.C.C.A.; McEachern, J. Hollinrake, J. Finch, J.
Cite: Vancouver Registry No. CA025823
The companies appealed a decision of the Supreme Court of British Columbia affirming a decision of the Forest Appeal Board. The Appeal Board had upheld the decision of the Director of Revenue Branch to correct a mathematical error in the calculation of stumpage rates by making a “special stumpage adjustment”, rather than sending the error to the Regional Manager for a full stumpage reappraisal. The Board also found that the effective date of the correction (when “notice” was given), was when the Revenue Branch “realized” there was an error or when the Appellants specifically identified the error in a letter to the Ministry.
The companies argued that the Chambers Judge erred in affirming the decision of the Board: the Judge had found that the language of the Coast Appraisal Manual (“CAM”) dealing with mathematical errors was unambiguous, but that giving effect to the plain meaning would lead to an absurd result. The companies also argued that the Chambers Judge applied the wrong standard of review to the Board’s decision on notice, giving too much deference to the Board. The financial consequences of these errors to the companies was said to total approximately $17 million.
The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal on both grounds. The Court found that the section of the CAM addressing mathematical errors was clear and unambiguous and, as such, it must be “enforced” however harsh or absurd or contrary to common sense the result may be. It held that the finding of a mathematical error made reappraisal mandatory. The Court also found that it was an error to conclude that administrative costs and inconvenience amounted to an absurdity.
The Court also found that the effective date of the correction was essentially a question of law which should have been reviewed by the Chambers Judge on a standard of correctness. Applying this standard, the Court found that the Board erred in holding that the initial letter by the companies to the Ministry did not constitute notice in conformity with the legal requirements of s. 2.3.4 of the CAM.
The appeal was allowed on both issues.