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Union asks Court to Initiate Safety Prosecution Against Employer

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A union has taken the unusual step of asking the Federal Court to order the federal Minister of Labour to prosecute a company for alleged safety violations.

In 2010, the Canadian Union of Public Employees and two other unions, the Air Canada Pilots Association and the CAW, filed a complaint with Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, alleging that Air Canada was in violation of certain sections of Part II (Occupational Health and Safety) of the Canada Labour Code.

The alleged violations related to workplace violence concerns, including failing to co-operate with the health and safety policy committee and failing to choose an appropriate, impartial person to investigate workplace violence.  The complaint asked that a Health and Safety Officer with HRSDC intervene.  A Health and Safety Officer investigated and found no violation.

CUPE then applied to the court for an Order compelling an HRSDC Health and Safety Officer to issue a direction to Air Canada to end the alleged violations, and requiring the Minister of Labour to prosecute Air Canada, or to permit CUPE to prosecute Air Canada.

Madam Justice Kane decided that generally speaking, courts will not determine whether a Health and Safety Officer should issue a safety direction or what the direction should be.  She also stated that courts will not order the Minister of Labour to prosecute for an alleged violation of the Canada Labour Code.  Lastly, she stated that courts will rarely interfere with the Minister’s discretion as to whether or not to lay charges.

This case is part of a trend of unions seeking safety charges against companies.  As we have previously mentioned on this blog, the Ontario Federation of Labour has a campaign seeking more criminal prosecutions against companies and supervisors alleged to have committed serious safety breaches.

Cupe, Air Canada Component v. Canada (Minister of Labour), 2012 FC 1484 (CanLII)