Mobil Oil Canada Ltd. v. Canada

Mobil Oil Canada Ltd. v. Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board, [1994] 1 SCR 202, 1994 CanLII 114 (SCC)

• Oil and gas company applies for a significant discovery declaration for an offshore well in 1990, but it was based on a well they had drilled in 1982. Law didn’t allow this, requiring that a fresh well be drilled.
• The company put forth a novel legal argument; the Board denied the application and didn’t even grant a hearing in writing or orally
• Given the novelty of the argument and statutory regime, not consistent with procedural fairness to deny the application without a hearing
• While the usual consequence of a denial of fairness or natural justice is to render the resulting decision invalid, the SCC introduced an exception to this principle. Indeed, where it is certain that even if a fair hearing is held, the applicant cannot as a matter of law succeed, the remedy may be withheld.
• The SCC authoritatively pronounced on the correct interpretation of the statutory regime. This effectively meant that if the matter was sent back to the Board, the Board would be forced as a matter of law to render the same decision it had already made, denying the application.

Mobil Oil in other case-law:
• Discussed in Hassani v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), [2007] 3 FCR 501, 2006 FC 1283 (CanLII), <>

• [38]As further noted by the Court of Appeal in Patel, at paragraph 5, the Supreme Court of Canada (S.C.C.) reflected in Mobil Oil Canada Ltd. v. Canada Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board, 1994 CanLII 114 (SCC), [1994] 1 S.C.R. 202 (Mobil Oil), on the proposition that the Court has the discretion in judicial review proceedings, where a person’s right to procedural fairness has been breached and the reviewing court is satisfied that the breach could not have changed the result, to not overturn the decision. In Mobil Oil, the S.C.C. noted the following in this regard, at page 228:

The bottom line in this case is thus exceptional, since ordinarily the apparent futility of a remedy will not bar its recognition: Cardinal, supra. On occasion, however, this Court has discussed circumstances in which no relief will be offered in the face of breached administrative law principles: e.g., Harelkin v. University of Regina, 1979 CanLII 18 (SCC), [1979] 2 S.C.R. 561. As I described in the context of the issue in the cross appeal, the circumstances of this case involve a particular kind of legal question, viz., one which has an inevitable answer.

• In Administrative Law (6th ed. 1988), at p. 535, Professor Wade discusses the notion that fair procedure should come first, and that the demerits of bad cases should not ordinarily lead courts to ignore breaches of natural justice or fairness. But then he also states:

• A distinction might perhaps be made according to the nature of the decision. In the case of a tribunal which must decide according to law, it may be justifiable to disregard a breach of natural justice where the demerits of the claim are such that it would in any case be hopeless.

• In this appeal, the distinction suggested by Professor Wade is apt. [Emphasis added].