New decisions from the Supreme Court of Canada

The following decisions were released on the Supreme Court of Canada Judgments website since the last InForum. The subject headings and summaries have been prepared by the Supreme Court of Canada. This notice has been prepared by Society staff in Library & Information Services.

June 27, 2014

United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 503 v. WalMart Canada Corp.
Neutral Citation: 2014 SCC 45 (CanLII)
File No.: 34920.
2013: December 6; 2014: June 27.

Present: McLachlin C.J. and LeBel, Abella, Rothstein, Cromwell, Karakatsanis and Wagner JJ.

On Appeal from the Court of Appeal for Quebec

Labour relations — Certification — Maintenance of conditions of employment — Collective dismissal — Arbitration — Union certified to represent employees — Negotiations to conclude first collective agreement with employer unsuccessful — Employer announcing closure of business — Union filing grievance alleging that dismissal of employees constituted unilateral change in conditions of employment that prohibited by s. 59 of Quebec Labour Code — Whether s. 59 can be used to challenge resiliation of contracts of employment of all employees of establishment — If so, whether arbitrator rendered unreasonable award in concluding that, in this case, resiliations constituted unlawful change in conditions of employment — Labour Code, CQLR, c. C27, ss. 59, 100.12.

Wal‑Mart opened its Jonquière establishment in 2001. In August 2004, the Commission des relations du travail certified United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 503 (“the Union”) as the bargaining agent for the employees working at the establishment. In the months that followed, Wal‑Mart and the Union met several times to negotiate the terms of a first collective agreement. These meetings proved to be unsuccessful, and on February 2, 2005, the Union applied to the Minister of Labour to appoint an arbitrator to settle the dispute that remained between the parties. One week later, Wal‑Mart informed the Minister of Employment and Social Solidarity that it intended to resiliate the contracts of employment of all the approximately 200 employees who worked in its Jonquière establishment “for business reasons” on May 6 of that year. After breaking the news to its employees, the business actually closed its doors earlier than planned, on April 29, 2005. Believing that the decision was based on anti‑union considerations, the employees and their union brought a series of proceedings against their former employer. In most of these proceedings, the result favoured Wal‑Mart.

On March 23, 2005, the Union submitted the grievance at issue in this appeal. It alleged that the dismissal of the employees constituted a change in their conditions of employment that violated s. 59 of the Labour Code (“Code”), which provides that, from the filing of a petition for certification, an employer may not change its employees’ conditions of employment while the collective agreement is being negotiated without the written consent of the certified association. Since Wal‑Mart had not proved that its decision to dismiss was made in the ordinary course of its business, the arbitrator concluded that the resiliation of the contracts of employment of all the employees constituted a unilateral change that was prohibited by s. 59. His award was affirmed by the Superior Court, but overturned by the Court of Appeal. The judges of the Court of Appeal, although divided on how broadly s. 59 should be construed, agreed that the section did not apply in the circumstances of the case before them.

Held (Rothstein and Wagner JJ. dissenting): The appeal should be allowed and the case remanded to the arbitrator to determine the appropriate remedy in accordance with the disposition of his award.

 

June 26, 2014
Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia
Neutral Citation: 2014 SCC 44 (CanLII)
File No.: 34986.

2013: November 7; 2014: June 26.

Present: McLachlin C.J. and LeBel, Abella, Rothstein, Cromwell, Moldaver, Karakatsanis and Wagner JJ.

On Appeal from the Court of Appeal for British Columbia

Aboriginal law — Aboriginal title — Land claims — Elements of test for establishing Aboriginal title to land — Rights and limitations conferred by Aboriginal title — Duties owed by Crown before and after Aboriginal title to land established — Province issuing commercial logging licence in area regarded by semi-nomadic First Nation as traditional territory — First Nation claiming Aboriginal title to land — Whether test for Aboriginal title requiring proof of regular and exclusive occupation or evidence of intensive and site-specific occupation — Whether trial judge erred in finding Aboriginal title established — Whether Crown breached procedural duties to consult and accommodate before issuing logging licences — Whether Crown incursions on Aboriginal interest justified under s. 35 Constitution Act, 1982 framework — Forest Act, R.S.B.C. 1995, c. 157 — Constitution Act, 1982 , s. 35 .

Aboriginal law — Aboriginal title — Land claims — Provincial laws of general application — Constitutional constraints on provincial regulation of Aboriginal title land — Division of powers — Doctrine of interjurisdictional immunity — Infringement and justification framework under s. 35 Constitution Act, 1982 — Province issuing commercial logging licence in area regarded by semi-nomadic First Nation as traditional territory — First Nation claiming Aboriginal title to land — Whether provincial laws of general application apply to Aboriginal title land — Whether Forest Act on its face applies to Aboriginal title lands — Whether the application of the Forest Act ousted by operation of Constitution — Whether doctrine of interjurisdictional immunity should be applied to lands held under Aboriginal title — Forest Act, R.S.B.C. 1995, c. 157 — Constitution Act, 1982 , s. 35 .

For centuries the Tsilhqot’in Nation, a semi-nomadic grouping of six bands sharing common culture and history, have lived in a remote valley bounded by rivers and mountains in central British Columbia. It is one of hundreds of indigenous groups in B.C. with unresolved land claims. In 1983, B.C. granted a commercial logging licence on land considered by the Tsilhqot’in to be part of their traditional territory. The band objected and sought a declaration prohibiting commercial logging on the land. Talks with the province reached an impasse and the original land claim was amended to include a claim for Aboriginal title to the land at issue on behalf of all Tsilhqot’in people. The federal and provincial governments opposed the title claim.

The Supreme Court of British Columbia held that occupation was established for the purpose of proving title by showing regular and exclusive use of sites or territory within the claim area, as well as to a small area outside that area. Applying a narrower test based on site-specific occupation requiring proof that the Aboriginal group’s ancestors intensively used a definite tract of land with reasonably defined boundaries at the time of European sovereignty, the British Columbia Court of Appeal held that the Tsilhqot’in claim to title had not been established.

Held: The appeal should be allowed and a declaration of Aboriginal title over the area requested should be granted. A declaration that British Columbia breached its duty to consult owed to the Tsilhqot’in Nation should also be granted.

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