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October 22, 2021 | Issue 59

Today at the SCC: 1 Appeal 


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Appeal Judgment

Northern Regional Health Authority v. Horrocks, 2021 SCC 42 (37878) 
Labour arbitrator has jurisdiction under collective agreement here.

Appeal Judgment: 1 Allowed 

Labour Law: Arbitrator Jurisdiction 

Northern Regional Health Authority v. Horrocks, 2017 MBCA 982021 SCC 42 (37878) 

"H was suspended for attending work under the influence of alcohol. After H disclosed her alcohol addiction and refused to enter into an agreement requiring that she abstain from alcohol and engage in addiction treatment, her employment was terminated. H’s union filed a grievance and her employment was reinstated on substantially the same terms as the agreement H had refused to sign. Shortly thereafter, H’s employment was terminated for an alleged breach of those terms. H filed a discrimination complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, which was heard by an adjudicator appointed under The Human Rights Code. The employer contested the adjudicator’s jurisdiction, arguing that Weber v. Ontario Hydro, [1995] 2 S.C.R. 929, recognizes exclusive jurisdiction in an arbitrator appointed under a collective agreement, and that this extends to human rights complaints arising from a unionized workplace. The adjudicator disagreed, finding that she had jurisdiction because the essential character of the dispute was an alleged human rights violation. She went on to consider the merits of the complaint and found that the employer had discriminated against H.

On judicial review, the reviewing judge found error in the adjudicator’s characterization of the essential character of the dispute, and set aside her decision on the issue of jurisdiction. The Court of Appeal allowed H’s appeal. It agreed that disputes concerning the termination of a unionized worker lie within the exclusive jurisdiction of a labour arbitrator, including alleged human rights violations. Nevertheless, it held that the adjudicator had jurisdiction in this case and remitted the matter to the reviewing judge to determine whether the adjudicator’s decision on the merits of the complaint was reasonable."

The SCC (6:1) allowed the appeal and reinstated the reviewing judge’s order in part.

Justice Brown wrote as follows (at paras. 1, 5, 39-41):

"Labour relations legislation across Canada requires every collective agreement to include a clause providing for the final settlement of all differences concerning the interpretation, application or alleged violation of the agreement, by arbitration or otherwise. The precedents of this Court have maintained that the jurisdiction conferred upon the decision‑maker appointed thereunder is exclusive. At issue in this case, principally, is whether that exclusive jurisdiction held by labour arbitrators in Manitoba extends to adjudicating claims of discrimination that, while falling within the scope of the collective agreement, might also support a human rights complaint.

...

For the reasons that follow, I find myself in respectful disagreement with the adjudicator and the Court of Appeal. Properly understood, this Court’s jurisprudence has consistently affirmed that, where labour legislation provides for the final settlement of disputes arising from a collective agreement, the jurisdiction of the decision‑maker empowered by that legislation — generally, a labour arbitrator — is exclusive. Competing statutory tribunals may carve into that sphere of exclusivity, but only where that legislative intent is clearly expressed. Here, the combined effect of the collective agreement and The Labour Relations Act, C.C.S.M., c. L10 is to mandate arbitration of “all differences” concerning the “meaning, application, or alleged violation” of the collective agreement (s. 78(1)). In its essential character, Ms. Horrocks’ complaint alleges a violation of the collective agreement, and thus falls squarely within the arbitrator’s mandate. The Human Rights Code does not clearly express legislative intent to grant concurrent jurisdiction to the adjudicator over such disputes. It follows that the adjudicator did not have jurisdiction over the complaint, and the appeal should be allowed.

...
 

To summarize, resolving jurisdictional contests between labour arbitrators and competing statutory tribunals entails a two‑step analysis. First, the relevant legislation must be examined to determine whether it grants the arbitrator exclusive jurisdiction and, if so, over what matters (Morin, at para. 15). Where the legislation includes a mandatory dispute resolution clause, an arbitrator empowered under that clause has the exclusive jurisdiction to decide all disputes arising from the collective agreement, subject to clearly expressed legislative intent to the contrary.

If at the first step it is determined that the legislation grants the labour arbitrator exclusive jurisdiction, the next step is to determine whether the dispute falls within the scope of that jurisdiction (Morin, at paras. 15 and 20; Regina Police, at para. 27). The scope of an arbitrator’s exclusive jurisdiction will depend on the precise language of the statute but, in general, it will extend to all disputes that arise, in their essential character, from the interpretation, application, or alleged violation of the collective agreement. This requires analysing the ambit of the collective agreement and accounting for the factual circumstances underpinning the dispute (Weber, at para. 51). The relevant inquiry is into the facts alleged, not the legal characterization of the matter (Weber, at para. 43; Regina Police, at para. 25; Quebec (Attorney General) v. Quebec (Human Rights Tribunal), 2004 SCC 40, [2004] 2 S.C.R. 223 (“Charette”), at para. 23).

Where two tribunals have concurrent jurisdiction over a dispute, the decision‑maker must consider whether to exercise its jurisdiction in the circumstances of a particular case. For the reasons given below, concurrency does not arise in this case. I would therefore decline to elaborate here on the factors that should guide the determination of the appropriate forum."

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