Supreme Court Defines “A Meaningful Collective Bargaining Process”

In Mounted Police Association of Ontario v. Canada (Attorney General), the Supreme Court of Canada decided that excluding members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (“RCMP”) from collective bargaining under the Public Service Labour Relations Act, (“PSLRA”), and imposing a non-unionized labour relations regime violated the freedom of association guaranteed by section 2(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the “Charter”).

At the inception of collective bargaining in the public service in the 1960s, the PSLRA and its predecessor statute excluded the RCMP from collective bargaining. Instead, labour relations for the RCMP was composed of three bodies: the Staff Relations Representative Program (“SRRP”), the Pay Council and the Legal Fund. The core component of the scheme was the SRRP, the only form of employee representation recognized by management and the primary mechanism through which members could address certain labour relations issues.

In this recent decision, the Supreme Court determined that the SRRP was unconstitutional in two ways.

First, the Supreme Court established that the right to associate under the Charter requires a meaningful process of collective bargaining that provides employees with a degree of choice and independence sufficient to enable the determination and pursuit of collective interests.

Secondly, the Supreme Court determined that the Charter guarantees the right of employees to meaningfully associate in the pursuit of collective workplace goals, which includes a right to collective bargaining. The Supreme Court held that freedom of association does not guarantee a particular model of labour relations, nor does it guarantee a particular outcome. It does, however, require a regime that does not substantially interfere with meaningful collective bargaining.

For the foregoing reasons, the Supreme Court concluded that the SRRP process does not permit meaningful collective bargaining, and thus, is inconsistent with the Charter:

through the imposition of the SRRP as the sole means of presenting concerns to management, RCMP members are represented by an organization they did not choose and do not control;
as the SRRP is a structure and process that is part of the management organization of the RCMP, the RCMP Regulations imposes a scheme that does not permit members to identify and advance their workplace concerns free from the influence of management; and,
the process fails to achieve the balance between employees and employer that is essential to meaningful collective bargaining, and leaves members in a disadvantaged, vulnerable position.
The Supreme Court found these infringements unjustifiable under section 1 of the Charter. As for the appropriate remedy, the Court struck down the offending provision of the PSLRA and suspended the declaration of invalidity for a period of twelve (12) months.

The Supreme Court did not mandate a particular labour relations regime or bar the federal government from pursuing an avenue other than the PSLRA to govern labour relations within the RCMP. Should it see fit to do so, Parliament remains free to enact any labour relations model it considers appropriate to the RCMP workforce, within the constitutional limits of the Charter.