An employer that terminated an employee alleging just cause has been ordered to pay damages for wrongful dismissal, including an aggravated damages award of C$75,000. The court was satisfied that the employer's actions amounted to a breach of the obligation of good faith and fair dealing, and supported an award of aggravated damages. The employer's false reasons for dismissal and inadequate and unfair investigation had resulted in the plaintiff failing to receive procedural fairness.
The Supreme Court of Canada recently determined that New Brunswick's restrictions on the importation of beer are constitutional and held that laws which create an incidental restriction on trade – but otherwise form a rational connection to a broader regulatory regime that is not targeted at restricting trade – will not contravene the Constitution Act 1867. The decision is controversial, as it sets a low threshold for a province to justify a law that, on its face, clearly restrains trade across provincial boundaries.
The Territorial Court of the Northwest Territories recently considered and accepted a joint submission from the crown and defence, sentencing an employer to a C$100,000 fine. The court considered the significance of a joint submission, noting that it is usually the result of a negotiation process between lawyers. This process is important to the administration of justice; thus, the courts should defer to a joint submission within the bounds established by the Supreme Court of Canada in an earlier case.
An Ontario court recently fined a defunct mining company that went out of business in 2016 C$1.3 million under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act after it found the company guilty on six charges following the deaths of two workers. This is one of the largest Occupational Health and Safety Act fines in Ontario history. However, the company did not defend the Ministry of Labour prosecution.
The court in a recent wrongful dismissal case dismissed the plaintiff's allegation that he had been dismissed after making suggestions about improvements to the employer's safety systems. The court found that the plaintiff's theories were unsupported by the evidence and insufficient to justify an award of aggravated or punitive damages. It therefore held that the employer's conduct was not malicious and high handed so as to warrant additional damages and dismissed that aspect of the plaintiff's claim.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal has upheld the firing of a unionised millwright who was caught with a small amount of marijuana in his pocket before boarding a helicopter that would transport him to an offshore platform. The labour arbitrator found that the employee likely knew that he possessed the marijuana, but had forgotten about it and not checked his pockets carefully. Although the Newfoundland Supreme Court set the arbitrator's decision aside, the appeals court restored it.
The Ontario Court of Appeal recently upheld the criminal negligence conviction and jail term imposed on a project manager for Metron Construction. The charges arose from an incident in which four workers fell to their death and a fifth sustained permanent injuries after a swing stage collapsed. This case has sent a message to employers and supervisors that criminal negligence charges – in addition to Occupational Health and Safety Act charges – are a real possibility after serious workplace accidents.
An Ontario court has upheld a combined fine of more than C$5.3 million, plus a 25% victim fine surcharge, against Sunshine Propane Energy Group, a related company and two corporate directors following explosions at a propane facility in 2008, which resulted in the death of one worker. The court held that the explosions were a foreseeable event given that an untrained employee had been left in charge and that his actions after the explosions showed his lack of training.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal recently held that a trial judge was wrong to find a city guilty of Occupational Health and Safety Act charges solely because an accident had occurred in which a worker died. It held that the trial court should have gone further and analysed each charge separately. The decision is a welcome reminder that prosecutors cannot simply rely on the fact that an accident took place to obtain a conviction.
The Ontario Court of Appeal recently held that the Ministry of Labour can prosecute employers under the general duty clause of the Occupational Health and Safety Act where the charges impose greater obligations than those set out in the regulations under that act. Ministry of Labour inspectors will likely consider using this decision to issue compliance orders or charges under the general duty clause even where regulations deal with the specific safety issue at hand, but do not apply in the particular case.
An Alberta court recently considered the 'accident as prima facie breach' principle in the context of an application for particulars. The principle provides that, in some cases, proof that an employee was injured in an accident while performing his or her employment duties proves the actus reus (ie, guilty act) for an occupational health and safety general duty charge. The burden then shifts to the defendant to establish a due diligence defence.
The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal recently ruled that a release signed by a terminated employee barred her complaint against her employer under occupational health and safety (OHS) legislation. The court stated that after the occurrence of a so-called 'triggering event', which provides a worker with the right to file a complaint under the legislation, that right becomes personal to the worker. Where a worker has given a release in respect of a personal right, the validity of the release must be reviewed.
The Court of Appeal for Ontario recently clarified the test for assuming jurisdiction over absent foreign claimants in Ontario class actions with international elements, opening the door to the potential certification of class proceedings on behalf of global classes. While the jurisdictional hurdle for absent foreign claimants appears to have been lowered as a result of the decision, it remains to be seen how the lower courts will interpret and apply the appeal court's test.
An Ontario court recently dismissed an Occupational Health and Safety Act charge in a fatality case, finding that the employer had established due diligence. The court decided that the worker had deviated from the standard practice that he and other workers had followed on previous occasions. While no training courses were available for the task in question, the employer was entitled to rely on the experience of the worker.
In a recent Ontario appeal decision, the court upheld a C$270,000 fine, despite the Ministry of Labour prosecutor and defence counsel agreeing that a C$180,000 fine would be appropriate. The case illustrates that, particularly in cases of serious injury to a worker which offends the court, there is always a risk that the court will impose a fine that is greater than the amount that the Ministry of Labour prosecutor wanted.
The Supreme Court of Canada has previously explained that legislatures may empower regulatory bodies to play a role in fulfilling the crown's duty to consult Aboriginal peoples. However, how that controlling law is to be applied by tribunals and by the courts of justice has been less clear. The Supreme Court recently issued two landmark crown consultation decisions, which provide meaningful guidance on when and how the crown may rely on regulatory processes to fulfil the duty to consult.
With a deadlocked board of directors, talk of a "public flogging" and a court reluctant to intervene, a recent British Columbia case is a colourful example of a requisitioned public company shareholders' meeting, with the twist that the requisitioning shareholders were represented by or aligned with three of the company's six directors. The decision provides a number of reminders for boards, shareholders and their advisers.
The Ontario Superior Court of Justice recently considered a criminal negligence charge against a boom truck operator who pleaded guilty to an Occupational Health and Safety Act charge in a case involving a workplace fatality. The police's act of laying criminal charges after the operator had pleaded guilty constituted a breach of the sense of fair play, an act which offends the community. The court therefore stayed the criminal negligence charge, citing a breach of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal recently dismissed the crown's appeal of the acquittal of an employer in a case involving a worker who died of suffocation in a grain terminal. It found that while proof of an accident may be enough to establish the elements of the general charge that an employer failed to ensure the health and safety of an employee, where the crown has particularised a charge, it must prove all of the necessary elements.
The Court of Appeal recently confirmed the ongoing gatekeeper function of trial judges in the context of expert testimony. A trial judge's role does not end after the preliminary threshold stage, but continues throughout the proceeding to protect the justice system's integrity. The concept of fairness is a hallmark of Canada's judicial system and necessary to maintain public confidence in the system. As was evidenced in this case, in the battle between efficiency and integrity, the latter must always prevail.