The Ontario Divisional Court continues to apply strict limits to any departure from a joint submission in discipline cases. A discipline panel may only reject a joint submission where it would bring the administration of justice into disrepute or would otherwise be contrary to the public interest. The panel cannot depart from a joint submission simply because it is of the view that the proposed sanction is unfit. This limited role for the discipline panel is based upon the importance of a high degree of certainty in such resolutions, which serves a valuable public interest purpose on its own.
In Ontario College of Teachers v. Merolle, 2023 ONSC 3453, a school principal admitted to making inappropriate comments to a colleague, who held a subordinate position. The joint submission included, among other things, a three-month suspension. A majority of the panel declined to impose the three-month suspension on the basis that it would be unduly harsh in the circumstances. One panel member dissented in support of the joint submission.
In restoring the joint submission, the Court noted the high threshold for departing from it, namely only where a reasonable person would view the outcome as a breakdown in the proper functioning of the justice system. The Court noted that while the majority of the panel used “contrary to the public interest” language in its reasons, in fact they applied general sentencing principles, such as weighing the seriousness of the conduct and considering the range of prior decisions. The Court said that the panel had reverse engineered its rejection of the joint submission.
The Court reimposed the joint submission as it would have been accepted by the dissenting member of the panel, finding that he applied the correct legal test.