Supreme Court: law banning RCMP from bargaining was unconstitutional

The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) has overturned an old law that prevented the RCMP from forming independent labour organizations, stating that the rule was contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In the landmark decision, delivered in Ottawa on Jan. 16, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote that the Charter’s guarantee of freedom of association gives all Canadian workers, including RCMP members, sufficient choice and independence to pursue their interests via collective bargaining.

“The current RCMP labour relations regime denies RCMP members that choice,” McLachlin concluded, “and imposes on them a scheme that does not permit them to identify and advance their workplace concerns free from management’s influence.”

Canadian law implemented collective bargaining in federal public service with the Public Service Staff Relations Act in 1967, but the act excluded RCMP members from bargaining. The current Public Service Labour Relations Act, enacted in 2003, also excluded the RCMP from the process. The only form of employee representation that RCMP management recognized was the Staff Relations Representative Program (SRRP), a non-unionized labour relations system in which workers could raise any issues except wages.

“This is not a case of a complete denial of the constitutional right to associate,” wrote McLachlin. “Rather, it is a case of substantial interference with the right to associate for the purpose of addressing workplace goals through a meaningful process of collective bargaining, free from employer control.”

Jason Tamming, spokesperson for the federal Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, told COHSN that the ministry was in the process of reviewing the Supreme Court’s decision. The ministry is in charge of the RCMP and other national security services. “We thank RCMP officers who work hard every day to keep Canadians and their communities safe,” Tamming added.

Rob Creasser, media representative with the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada, described his reaction to the SCC verdict as “over-the-moon happy.”

He said that the decision would give RCMP officers a much stronger voice in determining their work conditions, including salary and benefits. “The court made a really strong statement in their ruling,” he added. “I’m hopeful that with the Government of Canada, we can draft legislation that will allow RCMP members to do pretty much everything that every other Canadian police officer in Canada does.”

Creasser noted that the SRRP had shown no interest in changing the status quo in terms of collective bargaining. “The association that I joined in 1994 has been working steadily over the last 21 years to get where we are today.” Volunteer associations in Ontario and Quebec helped to pave the way, he explained.

Under the new rules, RCMP employees are now free to form their own independent associations without management interference. But the judgement stopped short of specifying that the RCMP could form its own union.

“The search is not for an ‘ideal’ model of collective bargaining, but rather for a model which provides sufficient employee choice and independence to permit the formulation and pursuit of employee interests in the particular workplace context at issue,” McLachlin wrote. “Choice and independence do not require adversarial labour relations; nothing in the Charter prevents an employee association from engaging willingly with an employer in different, less adversarial and more cooperative ways.

“This said, genuine collective bargaining cannot be based on the suppression of employees’ interests, where these diverge from those of their employer, in the name of a ‘non‑adversarial’ process.”

The SCC’s judgement is available online at http://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/14577/index.do.

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