British Columbia Court of Appeal relies on BCLI report on Wills, Estates and Succession in Interpreting BC’s Wills, Estates and Succession Act.
27 May 2019
By Maria Sokolova
In a recent decision involving the interpretation of the Wills, Estates and Succession Act, SBC 2009, c 13, [WESA], the British Columbia Court of Appeal placed significant reliance on BCLI’s report Wills, Estates and Succession: A Modern Legal Framework on the basis of which the Act was drafted.
The case, Robledano v Queano, 2019 BCCA 150 concerned the division of an estate of Ms. Jacinto, who was deemed to have died intestate. Ms. Robledano alleged that she and Ms. Jacinto had been in a marriage-like relationship that had not been terminated and that they were “spouses” within the meaning of the WESA, which entitled her to the entirety of the estate. Ms. Jacinto’s siblings, represented by Ms. Queano, alleged that the relationship between Ms. Jacinto and Ms. Robledano had been “terminated’ within the meaning of the WESA and therefore Ms. Robledano had no claim and they should split the estate between them. The British Columbia Supreme Court had weighed the conflicting evidence and found in favour of Ms. Robledano.
The BC Court of Appeal stated that because the appeal concerned unmarried persons in a marriage-like relationship, the appeal turned on the meaning of the term “spouse” in section 2 of the WESA. That section provides:
2(1) Unless subsection (2) applies, 2 persons are spouses of each other for the purposes of this Act if they were both alive immediately before a relevant time and….
(b) they had lived with each other in a marriage-like relationship for at least 2 years.
(2) Two persons cease being spouses of each other for the purposes of this Act if,….
(b) in the case of a marriage-like relationship, one or both persons terminate the relationship.
On appeal, Ms. Queano argued that, because Ms. Robledano and Ms. Jacinto were not living together at the time of Ms. Jacinto’s death, they could not be spouses pursuant to s 2(1)(b). Section 2(2)(b) was therefore not relevant to the case.
Citing BCLI’s Report, the BC court of Appeal disagreed with that argument. The Court found at para 41 of its judgment that the WESA had been based on the draft prepared by BCLI in its Report and that this constituted legislative history which was relevant to its interpretation. The BCLI Report had proposed that the final version of section 2(1)(b), should specify that two persons are spouses within the meaning of the WESA if they lived with each other in a marriage-like relationship for at least 2 years at any time. The Court did not agree that the legislature had intended to change the substance of this provision when BCLI’s draft was turned into a statute.
With respect to s 2(2)(b), however, the Court found that the legislature had departed from BCLI’s proposal concerning when a marriage-like relationship would terminate. Nonetheless, the court upheld the factual findings of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, which had held that the relationship between Ms. Jacinto and Ms. Robledano had not terminated. The appeal was dismissed.
With its decision, the Court of Appeal has indicated a willingness to rely on BCLI’s reports as a source of legislative history, where BCLI’s recommendations are enacted by the legislature without an express intent to change their substance. The decision of the Court of Appeal in this case is consistent with the purposes of the amendments to the WESA, which were proposed by BCLI and adopted in order to modernize the legislation and respond to current social needs.