Focus On

WORKPLACE HEALTH AND SAFETY - Liability - Offences and enforcement - Fines - Appeals and judicial review

Friday, May 18, 2018 @ 2:13 PM  

Lexis Advance® Quicklaw®
Appeal by West Fraser Mills Ltd. (West Fraser) from the judgment of the British Columbia Court of Appeal affirming the decision of the British Columbia Supreme Court which dismissed an application for judicial review of a decision of the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal (Tribunal). A tree faller was fatally struck by a rotting tree while working within the area of a forest license held by West Fraser. The faller was employed, not by West Fraser, but by an independent contractor. The Workers’ Compensation Board of British Columbia (Board) concluded that West Fraser had violated s. 26.2(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation (Regulation), which it had adopted in response to a concern in the province about the growing rate of workplace fatalities in the forestry sector. Consequently, the Board imposed on West Fraser an administrative penalty pursuant to s. 196(1) of the Workers Compensation Act (Act). West Fraser argued that s. 26.2(1) of the Regulation was ultra vires and that an administrative penalty under s. 196(1) of the Act could only be levied against an entity acting as an “employer”, and not against an “owner”. The Tribunal dismissed West Fraser’s appeal. Both the British Columbia Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal upheld the Tribunal’s order. The question before the Court was whether s. 26.2(1) of the Regulation represented a reasonable exercise of the Board’s delegated regulatory authority and whether the Tribunal’s interpretation of s. 196(1) to enable a penalty against West Fraser was patently unreasonable.

HELD: Appeal dismissed. The usual principles of statutory interpretation, as applied to s. 225 of the Act, clearly authorized s. 26.2(1) of the Regulation. This provision was linked to the purpose of the Act as a whole and was a response to a concern in the province about the growing rate of workplace fatalities in the forestry sector. The Act did not create two silos of responsibility — one for “owners” and one for “employers”. It rather invited readers to consider owners’ obligations in light of the scheme as a whole with the broad purpose of promoting workplace safety. Section 26.2(1) represented a reasonable exercise of the delegated power conferred on the Board by s. 225 of the Act. Where the statute conferred a broad power on an administrative body to determine what regulations were necessary or advisable to accomplish the statute’s goals, the question the Court had to answer was not one of vires in the traditional sense, but whether the regulation at issue represented a reasonable exercise of the delegated power. In such a situation, the applicable standard of review was reasonableness. The consequences of interpreting a provision one way or the other and the reality of how the statutory scheme operated on the ground had to be considered by the courts reviewing administrative decisions, not only the text of the law and how its internal provisions fit together. The interpretation the Tribunal made of s. 196(1) relied on the statutory purpose, the complexity of workplaces and the shared responsibilities of all concerned. West Fraser was implicated in the fatality as an employer. It was therefore not absurd for the Tribunal to interpret as s. 196(1) applying.

West Fraser Mills Ltd. v. British Columbia (Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal), [2018] S.C.J. No. 22, Supreme Court of Canada, B. McLachlin C.J. and R.S. Abella, M.J. Moldaver, A. Karakatsanis, R. Wagner, C. Gascon, S. Côté, R. Brown and M. Rowe JJ., May 18, 2018. Digest No. TLD-May142018011SCC