Court rules that termination of rental agreement by public library is not subject to judicial review

  • November 29, 2019
  • Christopher Wirth and Sakshi Chadha

In Weld v Ottawa Public Library, 2019 ONSC 5358, the Ontario Divisional Court found that a decision by a public library to terminate a room rental agreement was not subject to judicial review as it was not made in a public capacity.


Madeline Weld entered into a rental agreement with the Ottawa Public Library for auditorium space to screen a movie entitled “Killing Europe”. After receiving a number of complaints from members of the public and reviewing the film’s trailer, the Library’s senior employees and CEO terminated the rental agreement due to the nature of the film’s content. The rental agreement permitted its termination if the use of the rental space would likely promote discrimination or hatred.

Ms. Weld brought an application for judicial review claiming the library’s decision to terminate the rental agreement was unreasonable, and violated her rights to procedural fairness and freedom of expression.

Ontario Divisional Court

The Court found that the application for judicial review would only succeed if the library was a public body and if the dispute between the parties had a sufficient public character. The court weighed the factors set out by the Federal Court of Appeal in Air Canada v Toronto Port Authority, 2011 FCA 347.

In balancing these factors, the court found that:

  • the character of the matter was private in nature because the film screening was a private event for which members of the public were required to purchase a ticket to attend;
  • pursuant to its governing statute, the core objectives of the library are not to ensure public spaces are made available for private events but instead to provide books and other materials accessible to the public;
  • the library’s decision was shaped by a private discretion in accordance with the terms of the rental agreement and not based on any legal requirements or statutory duties;
  • although some of the library’s trustees were City of Ottawa councillors, the trustees did not direct the termination of the rental agreement nor was their presence as trustees sufficient to give the decision a public character;
  • mandamus was not a suitable remedy in this contract law dispute. The library had no duty to rent its space or enter in rental agreements with a particular individual. However, the library may be subject to private law remedies or to human rights law;
  • the library does not have a compulsory power over private individuals, especially since they can seek out other rental opportunities to screen a film; and
  • these circumstances did not fall within an exceptional category that has attained a serious public dimension.

As a result, the court held that the library’s decision to terminate the rental agreement was private in nature and not subject to judicial review. The court also rejected Ms. Weld’s argument that the library’s decision was subject to the Charter and therefore reviewable by the court.


Although a library is a public body, a decision by it to terminate a rental agreement is private in nature. As a result, public institutions governed by a particular statute may make decisions that are not subject to judicial review if they are not acting in their public capacity. However, the decision may still be subject to private law remedies.

Christopher Wirth is a Partner and Sakshi Chadha is an Articling Student at Keel Cottrelle LLP.