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EMPLOYER OBLIGATIONS - Safety of workplace - Offences and enforcement - Procedure - Appeals

Friday, December 20, 2019 @ 1:19 PM  

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Appeal from a judgment of the Federal Court of Appeal dismissing an application for judicial review of an appeals officer’s decision concluding that Canada Post complied with its work place health and safety obligations. The appeal concerned an application for judicial review of a decision by the Occupational Health and Safety Tribunal Canada (OHSTC). The administrative decision maker determined that Canada Post was not in contravention of its work place inspection obligation under the Canada Labour Code (Code). The application for judicial review was dismissed at the Federal Court, and allowed on appeal. A representative of the Union filed a complaint that claimed that the Local Joint Health and Safety Committee failed to comply with mandatory health and safety obligations in the Code by limiting its work place inspections to the Burlington Depot. The complaint stated that the safety inspections should include letter carrier routes and locations where mail was delivered (points of call), and not just the Burlington Depot building. A Health and Safety Officer (HSO) attended the facility and upon investigation, found that Canada Post failed to comply with s. 125(1)(z.12) of the Code. Canada Post appealed the HSO’s direction to the OHSTC. The Appeals Officer rescinded the contravention relating to work place inspections. Contrary to the HSO, the Appeals Officer determined that this obligation applied only to the parts of the work place over which the employer had control, and did not include letter carrier routes and points of call. The Union sought judicial review of the Appeals Officer’s decision. The Federal Court upheld the decision. A majority of the Federal Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and reinstated the HSO’s direction. The sole issue before the Court was whether the Appeals Officer’s interpretation of s. 125(1)(z.12) of the Code was reasonable.

HELD: Appeal allowed. The Court applied the Vavilov framework to establish whether the decision of the Appeals Officer was reasonable. No unfairness arose from this as the applicable standard of review and the result would have been the same under the Dunsmuir framework. The Appeals Officer’s decision bore the hallmarks of “justification, transparency and intelligibility” and it fell “within a range of possible, acceptable outcomes which were defensible in respect of the facts and law”. Under the Vavilov framework, where reasons for an administrative decision were provided, the reviewing court took a “reasons first” approach focusing on the administrative decision maker’s justification for the decision, in light of any relevant legal and factual constraints. The Appeals Officer’s analysis followed a rational and logical line of reasoning. He employed well established principles of statutory interpretation, engaged with the submissions and evidence before him, and drew on his knowledge of the field when considering the practical implications of his interpretation. The Appeals Officer’s reasons did not display a fatal flaw in rationality or logic. The majority in the Court of Appeal appeared to have conducted a de novo interpretation of the impugned provision. It also failed to engage adequately with the Appeals Officer’s reasoning. Such an approach, whereby a “court embarks on its own interpretation of the statute to determine the reasonableness of the tribunal’s decisions,” was in tension with the guidance of the majority reasons in Vavilov on how to conduct reasonableness review, as it left “little room for deference”. An interpretation which imposed on the employer a duty it could not fulfil would do nothing to further the aim of preventing accidents and injury. While the Appeals Officer’s interpretation did limit the application of the obligations under s. 125(1), those obligations, and specifically the inspection obligation, could not be fulfilled by an employer that did not control the work place. The Appeals Officer’s decision responded to the issue before him, and took into account the detailed submissions of both parties. There was no indication that he failed to consider the evidence presented at the hearing, or that he based his decision on a misapprehension of the evidence so as to render his decision unreasonable. The Appeals Officer’s order rescinding the contravention of s. 125(1)(z.12) was restored.

Canada Post Corp. v. Canadian Union of Postal Workers, [2019] S.C.J. No. 67, Supreme Court of Canada, R. Wagner C.J. and R.S. Abella, M.J. Moldaver, A. Karakatsanis, C. Gascon, S. Côté, R. Brown, M. Rowe and S.L. Martin JJ., December 20, 2019. Digest No. TLD-December162019013-SCC