OTTAWA - The Federal Court has ordered the Harper government to find a new arbitrator in a lingering dispute between Canada Post and its biggest union.
In a decision released Wednesday, the court said arbitrator Guy Dufort's previous work for Canada Post and history as a Conservative candidate in Quebec casts doubt on his impartiality.
"In light of the unique context of labour relations and the special law, the court concludes that a reasonable and sensible person might worry that the arbitrator is biased because of these two reasons," says a summary of the decision.
Labour Minister Lisa Raitt had named Dufort to hear the case after retired judge Coulter Osborne quit the job amid concerns that he was not bilingual.
Though Dufort was on a list of potential arbitrators approved by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the union said they were unaware of the depth of his ties to the Conservatives and Canada Post and objected to his appointment as soon as they learned of the links.
The union says Dufort's Facebook page contained links to Conservative groups under the "activities and interests" section, and he was "friends" on the social networking site with both Raitt and Tory MP Steven Fletcher, the junior minister responsible for Canada Post. The links have since been removed.
"The union has written to Lisa Raitt, asking that a mediator be appointed to facilitate the collective bargaining process instead of appointing another 'friend' to force a winner-takes-all final offer selection on the parties as mandated by the back-to-work legislation," CUPW said in a statement.
The government is now considering its options, and Raitt's office had little to say on the matter.
"Our government took action and passed a law to restore delivery mail to Canadians. We acted in the best interests of Canadian in doing so," the minister said in a statement provided by her office.
"The CUPW provided Mr. Dufort's name on their short list of potential arbitrators put forth in November 2011. It would not be appropriate to comment at this time as we are currently reviewing the decision."
Canada Post also weighed in on the ruling, saying it's crucial both sides reach an agreement soon.
"With increasing labour costs and mail volumes decreasing at a faster pace than ever before, it is imperative that Canada Post secure a new collective agreement with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers," Canada Post spokesman Jon Hamilton said in an email.
"Today's decision represents another disappointing delay in achieving a new collective agreement."
Canada Post locked out some 50,000 of its employees last year after a series of rotating strikes by the union. The dispute ended with federal back-to-work legislation that forced workers to accept wages that amounted to less than Canada Post's last offer.
Arbitration hearings to settle the dispute stalled again in May after the Federal Court agreed to hear the case.
Labour Day: A Canadian Invention
Few Canadians realize it, but Labour Day is as Canadian as maple bacon. It all began in 1872, when the Toronto Typographical Union went on strike to demand a nine-hour workday. When <i>Globe and Mail</i> chief George Brown had the protest organizers arrested, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald passed a law legalizing labour unions. Thus, a Conservative prime minister became a hero to the working class, and Canada became among the first countries to limit the workday, doing so decades before the U.S. The typographers' marches became an annual event, eventually being adopted by the U.S., becoming the modern day Labour Day.
The Winnipeg General Strike
The end of World War I brought social instability and economic volatility to Canada. On May 15, 1919, numerous umbrella union groups went out on strike in Winnipeg, grinding the city to a halt. Protesters were attacked in the media with epithets such as "Bolshevik" and "Bohunk," but resistance from the media and government only strengthened the movement. In June, the mayor ordered the Mounties to ride into the protest, prompting violent clashes and the death of two protesters. After protest leaders were arrested, organizers called off the strike. But the federal mediator ended up ruling in favour of the protesters, establishing the Winnipeg General Strike as the most important strike in Canadian history, and a precursor to the country's modern labour movement.
The Regina Riot
During the Great Depression, the only way for a single male Canadian to get government assistance was to join "relief camps" -- make-work projects set up by the federal government out of concern idle young men were a threat to the nation. The relief camps, with their poor work conditions, became breeding grounds for communists and other radicals. The "On-To-Ottawa Trek" was organized as a protest that would move from Vancouver across the country to Ottawa, to bring workers' grievances to the prime minister. The trek halted in Regina when Prime Minister R.B. Bennett promised to talk to protest organizers. When talks broke down, the RCMP refused to allow the protesters to leave Regina and head for Ottawa, and on June 26, 1935, RCMP riot officers attacked a crowd of protesters. More than 100 people were arrested and two killed -- one protester and one officer.
In May, 1938, unemployed men led by communist organizers occupied a post office and art gallery in downtown Vancouver, protesting over poor work conditions at government-run Depression-era "relief camps." In June, the RCMP moved in to clear out the occupiers, using tear gas inside the post office. The protesters inside smashed windows for air and armed themselves with whatever was available. Forty-two people, including five officers, were injured. When word spread of the evacuation, sympathizers marched through the city's East End, smashing store windows. Further protests against "police terror" would be held in the weeks to come.
Giant Mine Bombing
In 1992, workers at Royal Oak Mines' Giant Mine in the Northwest Territories went on strike. On September 18, a bomb exploded in a mineshaft deep underground, killing nine replacement workers. Mine worker Roger Warren was convicted of nine counts of second-degree murder. The Giant Mine closed in 2004.
The Toronto G20
The Canadian Labour Congress, representing numerous labour groups, participated in protests in Toronto during the G20 summit in June, 2010. When a handful of "Black Block" anarchists rioted through the city core, it brought an overwhelming police response that resulted in the largest mass arrests in Canadian history. More than 1,000 people were arrested, with most never charged with any crime. Numerous allegations of police brutality have been made, and the Toronto police are now the target of several multi-million dollar lawsuits. So far, two police officers have been charged with crimes relating to G20 policing, and charges against other police officers are also possible.
When Vancouver-based magazine Adbusters suggested the public "occupy Wall Street" to protest corporate malfeasance, New Yorkers took the suggestion seriously, and occupied Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. Canadians followed suit, sparking copycat occupations in all major Canadian cities in September, 2011. By December, most of the occupations had been cleared, all of them non-violently. Though the protests achieved no specific goals, they did change the political conversation in North America. What their long-term legacy will be remains to be seen.