The Ontario Supreme Court of Justice recently held that members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have the right to unionize and to engage in collective bargaining.
Historically, RCMP members have been prohibited from unionizing because of concerns that unionization could result in conflicts between their allegiance to fellow workers and their obligations to follow orders and protect the public. In the late 1970’s the RCMP implemented a Staff Relations Representative Program in order to provide a means for members to consult with management on workplace issues. Under the Program members elected Staff Relations Representatives who represented them in consultations with management on workplace issues. The Program is contained in section 96 of the Regulations to what is now the Public Service Labour Relations Act. Section 96 provides that the Program is the sole entity through which RCMP members can address labour relations issues.
Recently, some RCMP members in British Columbia and Ontario decided that they did not wish to be represented through the Program and they formed their own associations. When RCMP management refused to recognize these associations on the basis that they did not comply with Section 96, the members commenced an action challenging the provision’s constitutionality. They argued Section 96 violated their constitutional right to freedom of association because it prohibited them from being represented by an organization of their own choosing and because it did not provide for a right to engage in collective bargaining, but only a right to engage in consultation.
The Court held that the right to freedom of association includes the right for employees to be represented by an independent association (including the right to determine which association they wish to join) and the right to engage in collective bargaining. Since Section 96 limited the right to representation to the Program, which permitted consultation but not true collective bargaining, the Court found Section 96 to be unconstitutional.