Canada SC | Obligation to inspect the safety of workplace is limited to the parts which are controlled by the employer

Supreme Court of Canada: A Full Bench of Wagner, CJ. and Abella, Moldaver, Karakatsanis, Gascon, Côté, Brown, Rowe and Martin, JJ. allowed the present appeal of Canada Post Corporation, superseding the rulings of Occupational Health and Safety Tribunal and Federal Court of Appeals.

In the present case, the appellant was Canada Post Corporation, a federally regulated corporation, which provides mail services throughout Canada and the respondent was the Canadian Union of Postal Workers that represents employees of the appellant, including letter carriers. Since the federal government is responsible for the mail services in the country, Canada Post is expected to follow Canada Labour Code. A part of this code deals with workplace health and safety of the employees during the course of their employment. Section 125(1) (z.12) of the Labour Code mandates every employer to ensure that every part of the workplace is inspected once every year for the health and safety of the employees.

The issue in the present case was whether Canada Post Corporation is obligated to inspect every letter carrier routes and points of call as a part of the workplace, according to the code.

While the Health and Safety Officer agreed with the union’s claim, the Appeals Officer at the Occupational Health and Safety Tribunal agreed with the Post. The matter went to the Federal Court of Appeal which let the Appeals Officer’s decision stand and dismissed union’s request for Judicial review (Judicial review is where a court looks at a decision by someone acting on behalf of the government.) But the Federal Court of Appeal said the Appeals Officer made mistakes and decided that the Health and Safety Officer’s decision should stand. This meant Canada Post had to inspect all the routes and places mail was delivered.

The matter finally went to the Supreme Court of Canada for reviewing the decision of the Appeals Officer on the grounds of reasonableness according to the Vavilov framework, which lays down the applicable standard of review. Justice Rowe used the brand new Vavilov framework as laid down in Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) v. Vavilov, 2019 SCC 65, to analyze the officer’s decision, finding that the Officer’s decision was reasonable  As provided for in Vavilov, when conducting reasonableness review, a reviewing court must begin its inquiry into the reasonableness of a decision by examining the reasons provided with respectful attention, seeking to understand the reasoning process followed by the decision-maker to arrive at a conclusion. What is required of statutory delegates to justify their decision will depend on the context in which the decision is made. A reasonable decision is one that is based on an internally coherent and rational chain of analysis and that is justified in relation to the facts and law that constrain the decision-maker.

The majority held that it was open to the Appeals Officer to make the decision, and concluded that his decision was based on an internally coherent and rational line of reasoning.

It was held that some parts of the Code are applied in general, to all places where workers had to be during their course of employment but some parts are applied only to places that the employer controlled. The section about inspections was one of these. The purpose of the inspections is to ensure the safety of the workers. Canada Post didn’t control the mail routes or most of the places where the mail was delivered as many of them were on private property. If there were a danger, Canada Post did not have the power to fix it.

Hence, the Supreme Court after exercising its power of judicial review, allowed the decision of the Appeals Officer to stand. [Canada Post Corpn. v. Canadian Union of Postal Workers, 2019 SCC OnLine Can SC 60, decided on 20-12-2019]

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