The existing RCMP Act 'interferes with the freedom of members of the RCMP to engage in collective bargaining.' - Justice Ian MacDonnell.
Toronto (8 April 2009) - Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have the right to form a union, an Ontario Superior Court judge has ruled in what may become a landmark decision for labour rights in Canada.
In a ruling this week, Justice Ian MacDonnell struck down a section of the RCMP Act that precludes unionization on grounds that it violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He gave the federal government 18 months to alter existing legislation and bring its practices into conformity with his ruling.
No announcement has been made on an appeal. However, one is considered likely in light of the RCMP's longstanding opposition to unions and the often anti-labour leanings of the Harper government in Ottawa.
In his ruling, MacDonnell said a section of the act banning unionization is unconstitutional, "because it substantially interferes with the freedom of members of the RCMP to engage in collective bargaining."
He has given the force and the federal government 18 months to bring the law and existing practices into line with his ruling. The right to strike is not likely to become a major issue in the case of the RCMP. Most police forces across the country have not sought, and do not have, the right to strike.
The Ontario challenge to the RCMP Act was launched by the Mounted Police Association of Ontario (MPAO).
The RCMP has 22,000 officers who work at the municipal, provincial and federal levels. It has often been described as the only police force in the country without a union. For more than a century, senior RCMP commanders have resisted unionization movements, often arguing that it is imperative that the loyalties of the rank and file not be split.
The interests of RCMP members are currently represented by what amounts to a company union. The force established the Staff Relations Representative Program (SRRP) 35 years ago to handle labour-management negotiations within the force. MacDonnell described the program as "an entity created by management to avoid unionization."
"From its conception in 1974, the SRRP was meant to be a mechanism for consultation ... not a vehicle for bargaining," he wrote. "Throughout the 20th century management was unequivocally hostile to the prospect of unionization of the force.... [The] SRRP is not an independent association formed or chosen by members of the RCMP."
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE
NUPGE labour rights page