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Professional associations, government boards and regulatory agencies make rules that affect our daily lives. For example, the provincial government makes laws about the minimum wage; the federal government makes laws about the rates we pay for telephone service; and some specialists, such as doctors, lawyers and accountants, are governed by associations that establish rules for practising their professions.
The resolution of disputes involving government laws and how they are applied is called administrative law. When there is a disagreement about the rules or how a policy is enforced, the matter isn’t usually settled in court, it is settled through an administrative tribunal.
If you disagree with a decision that a particular government agency has made that affects you, a special board (an administrative tribunal) will hear your complaint and make a decision about your case. For example, if a federal government agency has denied you employment insurance benefits when you lost your job, a special tribunal would hear your complaint. A tribunal is sometimes called a “board” or a “commission”. In BC, the procedures of tribunals are governed by the Administrative Tribunals Act, as well as the internal bylaws and regulations developed by each agency, commission or board.
The primary role of some organizations is to make rules in their specific area - these are regulatory agencies. Other agencies are primarily involved in resolving disputes in their specific area – these are called tribunals. There are dozens of provincial, and federal organizations that make regulations and resolve disputes.
The BC Directory of Administrative Tribunals & Agencies groups agencies into one of eight topical categories. To learn which administrative agency handles your issue, select the category that most closely matches your issue. The listings are classified as a Regulatory Agency or a Tribunal - based on their primary function. You can also see if the agency is provincial or federal.
If you have an issue that is regulated by an administrative agency, you will need to learn about the process involved in filing a complaint or dispute. There are dozens of administrative agencies in British Columbia and they handle a diverse range of issues – from nuclear waste to care facilities. It is important to identify which agency is responsible for handling your issue.
To start your search, select the most suitable category in the BC Directory of Administrative Tribunals & Agencies. The landing page for each category provides a brief description of each agency. Select the agency to learn more. When you have found the agency most likely to hear your complaint or dispute, you can visit their website to learn more about their process.
Some agencies will ask you to simply write a letter of complaint that includes details about the incident. Many agencies have a formal process for hearing complaints and disputes – they hold tribunal hearings.
Tribunal hearings are a little bit like court. They are formal, they are chaired by an independent person and/or expert and their decisions are often ``binding`` – which means that the loser must comply with the decision. Tribunal members are usually appointed because they have expertise in the subject area (for example, environmental regulation, truck transport safety, or farming practices) or because they have specific experience in administrative law. If you need to attend a tribunal hearing, see the section on Preparing for a Hearing.
Think you’ve been discriminated against? The Human Rights Tribunal is an example of an agency that’s responsible for receiving and settling complaints. Other tribunals hear appeals of decisions made by another government agency. For example, decision made by the Property Assessment Review Panel can be appealed to the Property Assessment Appeal Board. Generally, if you are not satisfied with a decision made by an administrative agency, you would need to apply for a Judicial Review in the BC Supreme Court. To learn more about appealing decisions made by administrative agencies, read the Judicial Review Guidebook.
Some tribunals have their own dispute resolution processes, such as mediation, which attempt to resolve an issue without a hearing. Sometimes people pay for mediation outside the tribunal process altogether. Other times, a person can solve the problem through effective negotiation. For example, if you have a workplace disagreement, the Employment Standards Branch will encourage you to talk with your employer first before taking your matter to the complaint stage.
It is important to read the guidelines of the agency that concerns your matter to find out whether it is worthwhile to pursue your matter through the tribunal process. To learn more about resolving disputes before they become bigger and more complex, see Early Resolution.
Filing a complaint or bringing a dispute to an administrative agency can be very complicated. There are specific rules and procedures to follow. Generally there is a set process. Lawyers are trained to represent people with legal issues and it may be necessary and worthwhile for you to get legal advice.
There are many ways to find out more about your legal problem, who can help you, and how a particular tribunal works. Some organizations provide advocacy services where a lawyer or a knowledgeable staff member can give you information about how to handle your problem. To learn more, see the AdminLawBC.ca website: Getting Help.
IMPORTANT: This page provides legal information, not legal advice. If you need legal advice consult a lawyer.
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