TORONTO (Canadian OH&S News)
Ontario’s highest court has ruled that the RCMP’s current labour relations scheme does not violate the freedom of association guarantees in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, overturning a lower court decision which said the RCMP have a constitutional right to form an independent labour association.
The June 1 decision from the Court of Appeal for Ontario confirms that Section 2(d) of the Charter does not guarantee a broad concept of collective bargaining or a specific labour relations model. “The Supreme Court [of Canada] has made it abundantly clear that s. 2(d) does not guarantee any particular model of labour relations,” writes Justice Russell Juriansz in the decision. “‘Collective bargaining’ under s. 2(d) protects only the right to make collective representations and to have those collective representations considered in good faith.”
John Craig, a lawyer with Heenan Blaikie LLP in Toronto and the representative for the intervener the Mounted Police Members’ Legal Fund — a not-for-profit corporation that helps RCMP members with various employment-related issues arising under RCMP policies and directives — says that the case confirms that there is “considerable room and considerable flexibility” within s. 2(d) for different kinds of approaches to labour relations.
“You don’t have to have unions, you don’t have to have strikes, you don’t have to have collective bargaining in the classic sense,” Craig says. “I think it means there’s lots of room under the constitution for different models and systems of labour relations as long as you have that basic foundational point — that there’s a mechanism or process in place for good faith dialogue between workers and their employers.”
The decision centres on the RCMP’s Staff Relations Representative Program (SRRP) which provides information, guidance and support to RCMP members and represents members’ interests in negotiations with management.
While the applicants in the decision — the Mounted Police Association of Ontario and the BC Mounted Police Professional Association — argued that SRRP is not a “genuine” employee association, is not independent from management, and does not engage in collective bargaining, Justice Juriansz writes that “s. 2(d) protects RCMP members from management interference in the establishment of an independent employee association. The Supreme Court’s jurisprudence makes clear that the associations’ conception of the content of ‘collective bargaining’ is too expansive.”
Current system includes checks and balances
Furthermore, RCMP members have been able to form their own voluntary associations; the current system includes mechanisms and processes that allow RCMP members to effectively achieve collective goals; and the voluntary legal fund allows members to access private legal representation.
“The formation and maintenance of such a robust association by RCMP members and the functions it performs support the conclusion it is not effectively impossible for RCMP members to exercise their fundamental freedom of association in relation to workplace issues,” Justice Juriansz notes.
Abe Townsend, a staff sergeant in the RCMP and national executive for the SRRP, says that the decision “confirmed what we have known all along — that we were able to advance the interests of our members. We are Charter-compliant when it comes to a form of representation and we have been able to successfully advance the interests of the members we represent in dealing with management of the RCMP.”
Townsend notes that SRRP representatives are elected from within the members of the RCMP for two or three-year terms. “We also have a grievance system so that our members can challenge any act, omission or decision of management that directly affects them through a formal process,” he says.
The Mounted Police Association of Ontario and the BC Mounted Police Professional Association, neither of which could be reached for comment, are considering a possible appeal to the Supreme Court, Craig says.