Research Paper Number



Laverne Jacobs

Subsequently published in the Osgoode Hall Law Journal.

Document Type


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administrative law; impartiality; moral and political philosophy; reasonable apprehension of bias test; liberalism; Rawls; Habermas


At the same time that Canadian public law jurisprudence has grappled with some very key cases on bias, a vibrant debate has also raged over the meaning and scope of the notion of impartiality within political and moral philosophy. Spurred by Rawls’ view of liberalism and culminating in deliberative democracy, this debate evolved over a span of more than four decades, yet, rarely, if at all, is this philosophical literature referred to in the public law jurisprudence dealing with impartiality. This paper inquires into whether the debates surrounding impartiality in political and moral philosophy and those in Canadian public law share common ground. In what ways might this literature and jurisprudence speak to one another? The author argues that knowledge of the two debates challenges us to reconsider the judicial methods by which decision-making impartiality is established. This is particularly so in administrative law. The author proposes a theory of grounded impartiality to be used in Canadian administrative law. The theory requires courts and administrative actors to pay close attention to factors such as administrative actor provenance, shared and local understandings, and the possibility for genuine discourse, to allow for more well-informed, meaningful, and transparent decision-making about allegations of bias. While these factors have been advocated by certain political and moral philosophers as an ideal means for assessing an individual’s claim to the good life, a parallel approach has faced ambivalent reception in Canadian administrative law impartiality jurisprudence.