In Mounted Police Association of Ontario v Attorney General of Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada today ruled that all workers have a constitutional right to be represented in collective bargaining by an association of their choosing that is independent of the employer.
Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are excluded from the Public Service Labour Relations Act. Instead, they are required to address labour relations issues through the Staff Relations Representative Program (SRRP), an internal process lacking independence from the employer. The Court ruled that both the exclusion from the Act and the imposition of the SRRP violate the freedom of association protected under section 2(d) of the Charter, and that this violation is not a justifiable limitation under section 1 of the Charter.
The Court’s reasons emphasize the crucial role that collective bargaining plays in empowering workers:
“[o]nly by banding together in collective bargaining associations, thus strengthening their bargaining power with their employer, can [workers] meaningfully pursue their workplace goals”. […] Just as a ban on employee association impairs freedom of association, so does a labour relations process that substantially interferes with the possibility of having meaningful collective negotiations on workplace matters”.
The Court clarified its previous ruling on the constitutional right to collective bargaining, confirming that the test for a section 2(d) violation remains “substantial interference” with meaningful collective bargaining, rather than “effective impossibility”. The Court also rejected the Government’s interpretation of the “derivative” nature of the right to collectively bargain, reiterating that “collective bargaining is a necessary precondition to the meaningful exercise of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of association”.
The Court’s decision in this case confirms what unions and workers’ rights advocates have long maintained: a representative process under the control or influence of the employer is directly contrary to the freedom of association and the constitutional right to collective bargaining. This ruling sets the stage for the Supreme Court’s highly anticipated decision in the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour case, which will determine whether the freedom of association also includes the right to strike.