Supreme Court of Canada hears appeal in Alberta v. Elder Advocates of Alberta Society

Case Commented On: Her Majesty the Queen in Right of the Province of Alberta v. Elder Advocates of Alberta Society et al., 2009 ABCA 403, appeal heard January 27, 2011

On January 27, 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments in the case of Alberta v. Elder Advocates of Alberta Society et al. The case arose after the provincial Health Minister issued a directive in August 1991 indicating that the operators of long term care facilities in Alberta were to charge and collect the maximum accommodation charge permitted by s. 3(1) of the Nursing Homes Operation Regulation, A.R. 258/85. The plaintiffs sought to certify class action proceedings under the Class Proceedings Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. C-16.5, on behalf of approximately 14,000 long term care facility residents. The plaintiffs argued that the residents had been overcharged because the Crown and Regional Health Authorities did not ensure that the monies paid by them for the “accommodation charge” were used solely for accommodation and meals. The class proceedings were certified by Justice Sheila Greckol of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench (see 2008 ABQB 490) and this decision was upheld by the Alberta Court of Appeal (2009 ABCA 403, per Justices Conrad, Berger and Rowbotham). The overall issue in the case is whether class proceedings were properly certified, which in turn raises issues related to the underlying cause of action. The Supreme Court described those issues as follows: What is the test for imposing a fiduciary duty upon the Crown outside the Aboriginal context? Does the province owe a private law duty to “exercise all reasonable care, skill and diligence with respect to the administration, monitoring and auditing of the public funding provided to operators and the accommodation charges paid to operators by residents”? If the province does not owe a fiduciary duty or duty of care with respect to setting the maximum accommodation charge, can dismissal of the common law claims against the province be avoided by pleading unjust enrichment? Do the pleadings support a Charter damages claim? Should a class action be certified based on any surviving cause of action? The Supreme Court reserved its decision in the case.

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