However, there are certain groups excluded from the Labour Relations Act, with organizing provisions built into other statutes, such as police and firefighters. Under the Police Services Act, police can be represented by an association; as a result, most police services in the Province are represented by Police Associations, which are in most ways indistinguishable from unions.
But, whereas the Labour Relations Act builds specific recourse to the OLRB for DFR complaints, the Police Services Act has no parallel. Accordingly, it is now trite law that the OLRB has no jurisdiction to hear DFR complaints from police or firefighters.
Nonetheless, it is also trite law that Police and Fire Associations, at common law, owe a duty of fair representation to their members.
The question becomes: How do you enforce that duty? This question was addressed recently by the Superior Court in Cumming v. Peterborough Police Association.
Mr. Cumming commenced a Court action based on the Association's alleged failure to properly represent him in disciplinary proceedings. The Association took the position that the essential nature of the dispute arose from the interpretation, application, administration, or violation of the collective agreement, and therefore is the sole jurisdiction of an arbitrator - and accordingly that the Court doesn't have jurisdiction. Justice Gunsolus accepted this argument, dismissing the action.
The decision is not entirely unprecedented. In 2006, the Court of Appeal came to a similar decision in Renaud v. Town of Lasalle Police Association. The Police Services Act creates a comprehensive scheme for dispute resolution, and therefore arbitrators have exclusive jurisdiction. That decision was probably binding on Justice Gunsolus, and probably made this a foregone conclusion.
But I'm still not sure it's right.
Is an individual member of a bargaining unit a "party" to a collective agreement?
There are a couple of issues: Firstly, the decision is premised on the notion that the individual officer is a party to the Collective Agreement (and therefore bound to the recourse contained within the Collective Agreement). While the legal relationships between employer, union, and bargaining unit member are complicated, I'm not at all sure that this is a correct statement of law. In many contexts, the Courts have concluded that individual bargaining unit members are not parties to collective agreements. (See, for example, Speckling v. Local 76 of the Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers' Union of Canada, 2009 BCCA 258, or CUPE Local 79 v. Toronto, 2012 ONSC 1158.)
However, even if you supposed that the individual bargaining unit member is a party to the collective agreement, it would be a party as a result of the union's representative role - in other words, the union's participation in the collective agreement is on behalf of the individual employees, entering into a contract with the employer. It is incoherent to suggest that the collective agreement in any way constitutes a contract between the union and the bargaining unit members.
Is the duty of fair representation a term of the collective agreement?
Secondly, the duty of fair representation, at common law, is one which exists prior to the collective agreement. Mandatory grievance arbitration clauses, such as in the Labour Relations Act or s.123/124 of the Police Services Act, regard disputes in terms of breaches of the collective agreement.
The Labour Relations Act creates a different mechanism for dealing with DFR complaints, and is therefore 'comprehensive'. However, the Police Services Act does not create a DFR mechanism. To read the mandatory arbitration clause as creating a DFR mechanism raises a number of issues, not the least of which is that it would essentially mean that the DFR is derived implicitly from the collective agreement, which is clearly not the case, as the association is actually bound by the DFR when *negotiating* the collective agreement.
Was Renaud correctly decided?
To really get in at the meat of this, we need to trace back into the precedents underlying the Renaud decision. Abbott v. Collins is an important Court of Appeal decision from 2003, involving OPP officers suing other officers for allegedly disciplining them.
In Renaud, the Court said of Abbott:
In Abbott v. Collins,  O.J. No. 1881 (C.A.), this court confirmed that the scheme created by the Act and Regulations and the Collective Agreement is intended by the legislature to provide a comprehensive scheme to govern all aspects of the employment relationship between the appellant and the respondents. [Emphasis added]And here's the rub. That's not what the Court said in Abbott. Nor would Renaud have been on all fours with Abbott, were that true.
In Abbott, what the Court actually said is this:
...the legislative scheme in Ontario, like the one in Saskatchewan, is intended to create a complete substantive and procedural code for discipline of police officers within the provisions of the Police Services Act and its regulations. [Emphasis added]Or, put another way, referring to a Supreme Court interpretation of similar Saskatchewan legislation, this:
Extrapolating from that approach, Bastarache J. concluded that the legislature had provided a comprehensive scheme regarding discipline within the Police Act and Regulations, which included the investigation and adjudication of discipline matters, and that formalistic interpretations of the Act must be avoided if they would deny the Commission jurisdiction in such cases. [Emphasis added]Put another way, the Court in Abbott did not deal with the question of whether or not the Police Services Act provided a "comprehensive scheme to govern all aspects of the employment relationship". In none of the decisions relied upon in the Renaud decision was the DFR even an issue.
What has the Supreme Court said about the DFR?
Justice Gunsolus also refers to the Supreme Court's decision in Gendron as affirming that the "exclusive principle applies in respect of the duty of fair representation".
In Gendron, however, the issue was whether or not a bargaining unit could pursue his DFR rights under common law, despite the fact that the Canada Labour Code gave him a statutory DFR right. The Supreme Court applied what is now a well-established analysis, as above, regarding comprehensive legislative schemes. The common law rights and recourse are, in effect, displaced by the statutory language of the Canada Labour Code.
By contrast, there's no question that the Police Association's DFR arises by virtue of common law. (I would argue that this, in and of itself, is a good reason to question whether or not the Police Services Act is 'comprehensive' in this regard.)
While the Courts in Renaud and Cumming suggest that an officer might seek recourse through conciliation and arbitration against the Association, it is less than obvious to me that this is actually a plausible method in general (and it seems to me that there would be some instances where an arbitrator certainly wouldn't have jurisdiction). Does anyone know of any circumstances in which this has been attempted?
In sum, I question Renaud's reliance on Abbott, and believe that the question needs to be revisited. The issues in Abbott bore little-to-no resemblance to the issues in Renaud. Even if Abbott called the Police Services Act 'comprehensive' in the way that Renaud suggests, that would be obiter outside of the disciplinary context. There are enough differences, generally speaking, between DFRs and disciplinary grievances that such a cursory comparison is inappropriate; a case such as Cumming calls for a careful examination of what, precisely, the Police Services Act says of DFRs.
This blog is not intended to and does not provide legal advice to any person in respect of any particular legal issue, and does not create a solicitor-client relationship with any readers, but rather provides general legal information. If you have a legal issue or possible legal issue, contact a lawyer.