This appeal stemmed from a labour dispute between Canada’s Department of Justice and its lawyers (the Association of Justice Counsel), who argued that the federal government’s Expenditure Restraint Act prevented them from exercised their right to collective bargaining, thereby infringing their right to freedom of association under Section 2(d) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Ontario Superior Court of Justice had partially agreed with the Association of Justice Counsel, stating that the limits on compensation increases for approximately 400,000 federal employees were in violation of Section 2(d). The court found that subsequent to the 2008 financial crisis, the infringement was a “reasonable limit” on freedom of association in accordance with Section 1 of the Charter, but that the limits placed on salary increases in 2006 and 2007 could not be reasonably justified.
The Ontario Court of Appeal overturned the Superior Court decision, applying the principles in Ontario (Attorney General) v. Fraser, 2011 SCC 20, and specifically the idea that the right to freedom of association “guarantees a process, not a result.” The Court noted that extensive attempts at collective bargaining had already been made prior to the Expenditure Restraint Act being passed into law, and that the failure to reach a mutually-satisfactory agreement did not render a legislated resolution unconstitutional:
“Fraser makes clear that s. 2(d) has limits: it does not guarantee any dispute resolution process after the parties have reached an impasse and it does not guarantee any particular outcome. In my view, the validity of the ERA must be assessed on the basis of whether, at the time it was enacted, the parties had had the opportunity for a meaningful process of collective bargaining. If they had, s. 2(d) is satisfied. The faint hope of further negotiations in the shadow of a dispute resolution mechanism not protected by s. 2(d) cannot expand or extend the reach of s. 2(d) beyond its core guarantee.”
Overall, the Court applied a rational and balanced approach to Section 2(d), without which it would be impossible for government to reduce expenditure. If Section 2(d) had been interpreted as a guarantee of endless negotiation, taxpayers would inevitably become hostages of politically well-connected public sector unions.
Decided by the Ontario Court of Appeal on August 7, 2012.
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