In a recent Federal Court decision, Safarian v Canada (MCI), 2023 FC 775, the Federal Court challenged the excessive use of boilerplate or bald statements and examined the denial of a study permit to the Applicant, Mr. Safarian. The decision shed light on the requirements for reasonable decision-making by visa officers, highlighted the importance of providing logical explanations in light of the context of the application, and reiterated that it is inappropriate for Counsel advocating for the decision maker to fashion their own reasons to buttress the decision.
The Framework for Judicial Review of Study Permit Denials
The framework for judicial review of study permit refusals can be found in the landmark decision of Canada (MCI) v Vavilov, 2019 SCC 65. In Vavilov, the Supreme Court of Canada determined that the standard of review for the judicial review of an administrative decision will be “correctness” for questions of law, including questions of procedural fairness and those concerning the scope of a decision-maker’s authority, and “reasonableness for palpable and overriding error of fact or mixed fact and law. The decision must bear the hallmarks of reasonableness – justification, transparency, and intelligibility – and be based on an internationally coherent and rational chain of analysis that is justified in relation to the facts and the law constraining the decision-maker.
In Safarian, Mr. Justice Sébastien Grammond emphasized the requirement for a logical explanation and responsiveness to the parties’ submissions from the reviewing visa officer and reminded that it is impermissible for the responding Counsel to bolster the visa officer’s decision. The decision and its reasons must stand or fall on its own.
Insufficient Reasoning and Boilerplate Statements
Mr. Safarian, a citizen of Iran, had applied to pursue a Master of Business Administration (“MBA”) at University Canada West, in Vancouver, British Columbia. The visa officer was not satisfied that Mr. Safarian’s study plan was reasonable because he had previously pursued studies in an unrelated field and the employment letter provided did not guarantee a salary increase.
In Mr. Safrian’s case, the visa officer provided Global Case Management System (“GCMS”) notes, or the reasons, which consisted largely of boilerplate or bald statements generated by the software used by Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC”) and Canada Border Services Agency (“CBSA”) when assessing study permit applications. The heavy reliance on boilerplate statements raises the concern that the visa officer failed to individually assess or review Mr. Safrian’s Application in light of the facts and his personal circumstances.
Justice Grammond highlights the Court’s view that using bald or boilerplate statements is not in itself objectionable, but it also does not absolve decision-makers from considering the facts of each case and explaining how and why the decision-maker reached the particular conclusion. Moreover, the fact that the use of a certain sentence or boilerplate statement was held to be reasonable in a previous Federal Court decision, does not immunize such a statement from review in subsequent cases. In sum, the Court must be able to determine how the officer reached their conclusion based on the GCMS notes provided, requiring the need for justification, transparency, and intelligibility in the officer’s reasons.
The Officer’s Decision Lacked a Logical Connection
The officer provided specific reasons for denying Mr. Safarian’s study permit, which focused on the insufficiency of Mr. Safarian’s study plan in light of his employment experience and education history. The officer raised concerns that the proposed studies in Canada were unreasonable because the Applicant’s previous studies were in an unrelated field. The officer also took issue with the Applicant’s employment letter because it did not explicitly state that Mr. Safarian would receive a salary increase upon completing the program of study and returning to work in Iran.
Justice Grammond found that the officer’s reasons were devoid of logic and stated that it is common for people to pursue an MBA after completing a previous degree in a different field of study and gaining work experience, citing Ahadi v Canada (MCI), 2023 FC 25. Furthermore, Justice Grammond’s determination supports that of the Honourable Madam Justice Furlanetto, who emphasized that it is not the role of the visa officer to act as a career counsellor or to determine if a study permit applicant’s intended studies will enhance their career or lead to an employment promotion or salary increase. [Monteza v Canada (MCI), 2022 FC 530 at paras 19-20]
The Court further found that the officer’s main reason for denial lacked a logical connection. Justice Grammond emphasized that it was unreasonable of the reviewing officer to equate Mr. Safarian’s years of employment in the same position to the genuineness of his study plan. The officer’s fallacy or assumption that having a job makes further study unnecessary was unreasonable in light of the evidence provided in Mr. Safarian’s application, including his study plan and employment documents.
Bolstering the Reviewing Officer’s Decision
At the hearing for judicial review of Mr. Safarian’s application, Counsel for the Minister drew the Court’s attention to the job duties listed in Mr. Safarian’s resume and the responsibilities of the “mentioned” position in the employment letter. Justice Grammond found the Responding Counsel’s considerations ambiguous and highlighted the Court’s view that undisclosed considerations cannot bolster the officer’s decision.
The jurisprudence is clear that a decision and its reasons must stand or fall on its own. Moreover, as noted by the Honourable Justice Zinn in the case of Torkestani, it is inappropriate for counsel advocating for a decision-maker to fashion their own reasons to buttress the decision. The Respondent, who is not the decision-maker, attempted to compensate for or clarify the shortcomings in the reviewing officer’s reasons, which is inappropriate and impermissible.
Remittal for Redetermination
It was the Court’s perspective that the officer failed to provide specific reasons for the conclusion that the proposed studies were unreasonable, given the obvious benefits an MBA from a university in a Western country could offer Mr. Safarian. As such, the Court decided to allow the application for judicial review and remit the matter to a different visa officer for redetermination.
Conclusion: Boilerplate or Bald Statements Should be Avoided
The Safarian v Canada Federal Court decision sheds light on the importance of reasonable decision-making and proper assessment in study permit denials. It emphasizes the need for visa officers to provide logical explanations, consider the context and facts of each case, and avoid relying excessively on boilerplate or bald statements. The ruling, in this case, serves as a reminder that applicants should be assessed on their individual merits, decisions must be based on clear and reasonable grounds, and responding Counsel should not advocate for the decision maker, rely on ambiguous statements, or fashion their own reasons to buttress a decision.
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