Labour Law: Reasonableness Standard

Canada Post Corp. v. Canadian Union of Postal Workers, 2019 SCC 67 (37787)

“Following a complaint and subsequent investigation, a health and safety officer found Canada Post Corporation, as a federally‑regulated employer, in contravention of certain health and safety obligations set out in Part II of the Canada Labour Code  (“Code ”). The complaint was filed by a representative of the letter carriers’ union, who claimed that the work place safety inspections performed by the joint health and safety committee should include letter carrier routes and points of call. The health and safety officer issued a direction finding that the employer failed to comply with s. 125(1) (z.12) of the Code, which states that “every employer shall, in respect of every work place controlled by the employer and, in respect of every work activity carried out by an employer in a work place that is not controlled by the employer, to the extent that the employer controls the activity, ensure that the work place committee or the health and safety representative inspects each month all or part of the work place, so that every part of the work place is inspected at least one each year”. The employer appealed the health and safety officer’s direction to the Occupational Health and Safety Tribunal Canada. The appeals officer rescinded the contravention relating to work place inspections, determining that the work place inspection obligation applied only to the parts of the work place over which the employer had control; this did not include letter carrier routes and points of call. The Federal Court dismissed the union’s application for judicial review. The Federal Court of Appeal allowed the union’s appeal and reinstated the health and safety officer’s direction that the employer failed to comply with s. 125(1) (z.12) of the Code.”

The S.C.C. held (7:2) appeal allowed, appeals officer’s order restored.

Justice Rowe wrote as follows (at paras. 2, 26, 38, 65-66):

“…The standard of review is reasonableness. This Court’s role is to review the reasons given by the administrative decision maker and determine whether the decision is based on an internally coherent chain of reasoning and is justified in light of the relevant legal and factual constraints. … I find that the decision of the OHSTC is reasonable and would therefore allow the appeal with costs throughout.

I agree substantially with the dissenting reasons of Near J.A. in which he applied the Dunsmuir framework, as described above. I would note again that Near J.A. concluded it was reasonable for the Appeals Officer to find that certain obligations only apply where employers have control over the work place, and not merely control over the work activity: “If the employer does not control the work place, it is not possible for the employer to ensure that the work place is inspected; no amount of control over the work activity will assist the employer in this regard” (para. 19). He considered the reasons in light of the objectives of the Code  and the broader context, and concluded:

  • The Appeals Officer’s interpretation, while limiting the applicability of the inspection obligation, does not undermine the objective of the Code  to protect the health and safety of employees. The Appeals Officer recognized: that the Code  must be interpreted liberally (reasons at para. 91); that subsection 125(1)  binds employers to the fullest extent possible (reasons at para. 95); and that employers have obligations under the Regulations to implement hazard prevention programs (reasons at para. 100). In my view, the Appeals Officer’s interpretation promotes the public welfare objectives of the Code  without over‑extending the work place inspection obligation beyond what is reasonable and logical. [Citations omitted; para. 21.]

In my view, Near J.A. properly concluded that the Appeals Officer’s decision was reasonable 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 are defensible in respect of the facts and law” (Dunsmuir, at para. 47). As I explain below, under the Vavilov framework, where reasons for an administrative decision are provided, the reviewing court takes a “reasons first” approach focusing on the administrative decision maker’s justification for the decision (Vavilov, at para. 84), in light of any relevant legal and factual constraints. Under both frameworks, I am of the view that the Appeals Officer’s decision was reasonable.

Far from being internally incoherent, the Appeals Officer’s reasoning demonstrates his in‑depth understanding of the ways in which Canada Post fulfils the purposes of the Code , bearing in mind the practical limitations of a work place spanning 72 million kilometres of postal routes. With respect to the Union’s position, Canada Post’s ability to carry out some route audits does not imply that it has the capacity to inspect all routes in a year.

Before the Appeals Officer, it was undisputed that Canada Post does not have physical control over individual points of call or lines of route, and that many of the points of call are private property. The Appeals Officer further found that Canada Post cannot alter nor fix the locations in the event of a hazard. The Appeals Officer applied his interpretation of the provision to these facts and concluded the obligation to inspect the work place “is one that can only apply to an employer who has control over the physical work place. [Therefore,] subsection 125(1) (z.12) does not apply to any place where a letter carrier is engaged in work outside of the physical building [in] Burlington” (para. 99).

The Appeals Officer’s conclusions followed from a clear line of reasoning. With due regard to the submissions before him, he interpreted s. 125(1) (z.12) using well‑established principles of statutory interpretation. The interpretation he arrived at is harmonious with the text, context and purpose of the provision and aligns with past decisions of the OHSTC. He applied his interpretation to the facts of the case and justified his conclusion.”

Full Decision