On January 16, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered a six to one judgement in the case of Mounted Police Association of Ontario v. Canada, effectively overturning the longstanding ban on collective bargaining and unionization within the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The ruling affirmed that any such ban was an unreasonable violation of RCMP members' Section 2(d) Charter right to freedom of association, and gave the Government of Canada a one year period to introduce changes to the current labour relations structure of the force.
It is important to understand the background of this monumental decision:
Over 15 years ago, Gaetan Delisle, an RCMP officer from the Province of Quebec, was the first to challenge the prohibition against collective bargaining within the force. After a long court battle, the Supreme Court held (in 1999) that at the time, the ban contained within the Public Sector Labour Relations Act did not present a sufficient infringement to warrant overturning the entire labour relations scheme. That judgement (Delisle v. Canada (Deputy Attorney General) has now been effectively overturned with this more recent decision.
In the years following the Delisle judgement, 3 main (voluntary) associations had been created by members within the RCMP: The Mounted Police Association of Ontario, the British Columbia Mounted Police Association and the Association des membres de la Police Montée du Québec. It was these three associations who were largely responsible for continuing efforts to reform the labour relations programs within the RCMP, and who brought this recent case forward.
The judgement in MPAO v. Canada largely relied on arguments brought forward that showed that the RCMP were the only police service in Canada where members did not enjoy the rights of association. While the government argued that the existence of the 3 voluntary associations proved members could act collectively, the Court held that without the power to collectively bargain, the existence of a voluntary association did not meet the threshold necessary to deny the basic rights that RCMP members are guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I should note in the interest of full disclosure that the Canadian Police Association, a national organization which represents front-line law enforcement personnel, acted as an intervener in the case of Mounted Police Association of Ontario, et al. v. Attorney General of Canada, asking the Supreme Court of Canada to recognize that regulations barring RCMP members from forming an association are unique in Canada, and that all other municipal and provincial police services currently have the freedom to form their own labour associations.
Even without a formal union, the three voluntary associations had managed to win a number of concessions over the years within the force itself. From obtaining a bilingualism bonus for members through the Gingras decision, to effectively preventing the RCMP from being removed from coverage under the Canada Labour Code for occupational health and safety, members were able to work collectively to address serious labour issues within the service.
It should be noted that the recent judgement of the Supreme Court should not be read as an indictment against the existing Staff Relations Representative Program, which has also advocated on behalf of front-line members of the RCMP over almost three decades. Unfortunately, under the current labour structure, the SRRP enjoys access to management but can suffer from the perception that it lacks the independence necessary to bargain in good faith when disputes occur.
Recent legislation that has been passed by the Government of Canada, the former C-42 (Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act), is a good example of an area where a more independent association may have had the opportunity to make significant changes before the imposition of new policies regarding everything from disciplinary matters to human resources management. This legislation grants management significant authority regarding personnel matters within the RCMP, without the checks and balances that usually exist within a police service to protect the rights of the individual members.
The judgement rendered in January should instead be viewed as the beginning of a serious conversation amongst members of the RCMP themselves about what direction they wish to take in their own labour relations structure, which is where this issue should have been allowed to be decided in the first place.
Of course, it is important to note that because the Court has granted the Government of Canada one year to implement a new structure within the RCMP that any such changes are unlikely to take place until after the upcoming federal election, scheduled for October, 2015, with the potential for this to become an issue in the campaign itself.
Every other police force in Canada has a statutory regime governing labour relations and the process of collective bargaining. The simple fact is that the RCMP does not. The process will be unclear and potentially confusing and divisive without legislation setting out the ground rules.
An independent police association for the RCMP would go a long way towards improving accountability, efficiency and transparency by providing the necessary oversight and grievance processes, which is in the best interests of the front-line members of the RCMP themselves. The Court has given the Government a mandate to follow the models of Newfoundland and Ontario and amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act to provide for collective bargaining; neutral third-party grievance arbitration; binding interest arbitration; a code of conduct and discipline appeals; and to prevent strike and lockout. A proper legislative solution will instil workplace democracy in the RCMP and in turn create other relevant accountability mechanisms long overdue in Canada's federal police service.
It is impossible to over-emphasize how important this recent Supreme Court decision is within the context of law enforcement labour relations in Canada. Almost 20,000 uniformed Mounties have been given a tremendous opportunity to create a "made in the RCMP" approach to their own future as a member of the force.
Michael Gendron is the Communications and Government Relations Officer for the Canadian Police Association (CPA). Both the Mounted Police Association of Ontario (MPAO) and the Mounted Professional Police Association of Canada (MPPAC) are represented on the Board of Directors of the CPA.