The Supreme Court Tackles Questions Of Jurisdiction


In Tessier v. Québec (Commission de la santé et sécurité du travail), 2012 SCC 23 the Supreme Court of Canada tackled an important issue relating to the division of powers as they relate to labour relations. In this decision, handed down on May 17, 2012, the Supreme Court was tasked with deciding whether work done by employees qualified as a federal transportation undertaking for the purpose of s.92(10) of the Constitution, which deals with lines of steam and other ships. This appeal was the first time the Supreme Court has had the opportunity to assess the constitutional consequences when the employees performing the work do not form a discrete or distinct unit but are instead fully integrated into the related operation.

Tessier (or the Employer), a heavy equipment rental company, engaged in intra-provincial road transportation and maintenance. In 2005-2006, the Employer's equipment was regularly used in the loading and unloading of ships, an activity also known as stevedoring. This activity represented 14 percent of its overall revenue and 20 percent of the salaries paid to its employees. Furthermore, Tessier's stevedoring services were not performed by a discrete unit of employees. Instead, the employees were fully integrated into the Employer's.

In 2006, Tessier's parent company sought a declaration from Quebec's Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail ("CSST") that its stevedoring activities fell under federal jurisdiction and that it was not, as a result, subject to provincial occupational health and safety legislation. Tessier preferred to have its workers declared to be under federal jurisdiction because federal undertakings are excluded from paying fees directed to financing Quebec's Operational Health and Safety Act.

Writing for the Court, Justice Abella noted that, although labour relations is a presumptively provincial matter, the federal government has jurisdiction to regulate labour relations in two specific circumstances. First, when the employment relates to a work, undertaking, or business within the legislative authority of Parliament; or second, when it is an integral part of a federally regulated undertaking, sometimes referred to as derivative jurisdiction.

Citing the Stevedores Reference, [1955] S.C.R 529, Justice Abella asserted that, while s.91(10) confers exclusive legislative jurisdiction to Parliament over "Navigation and Shipping", s.91(10) does not confer absolute authority on the federal government...

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