Legal News

Supreme Court of Canada: Labour Arbitrators Do Not Always Have Exclusive Jurisdiction Over Issues Arising From A Collective Agreement

The teachers’ unions of Quebec entered into a modification of the collective agreement with the Province which affected a minority group of younger and less experienced teachers. The younger teachers complained to the Quebec Human Rights Commission that the agreement discriminated against them and violated the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. The Commission brought the matter before the Human Rights Tribunal.

The Government respondents filed a motion asking the Tribunal to decline jurisdiction on the basis that labour arbitrators possessed exclusive jurisdiction over the dispute. The Tribunal rejected the motion but the Quebec Court of Appeal reversed the decision. The matter then proceeded to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Supreme Court overturned the decision of the Quebec Court of Appeal and reinstated the jurisdiction of the Human Rights Tribunal. The Supreme Court provided four reasons for its decision:

  1. The nature of the question does not lend itself to characterization as a grievance under the collective agreement, since the claim is not that the agreement has been violated, but that it is itself discriminatory.

  2. The unions were, on the face of it, opposed in interest to the complainants, as it was one of the negotiating parties that bargained the allegedly discriminatory agreement. If the unions chose not to file a grievance before the arbitrator, the teachers could be left with no legal recourse.

  3. Even if the unions had filed a grievance on behalf of the complainants, an arbitrator would not have jurisdiction over all of the parties to the dispute.

  4. Because the complainants’ general challenge to the validity of a provision in the collective agreement affected hundreds of teachers, the Human Rights Tribunal was a ‘better fit’ for the dispute than the appointment of a single arbitrator to deal with a single grievance within the statutory framework of the Labour Code.

Commission des Droits de la Personne et des Droits de la Jeunesse v. Quebec (Attorney General), 2004 SCC 39, June 11, 2004.