Supreme Court of Canada rules workers' compensation can apply to independent contractors.
22, May 22, 2018 - Filed in: Court Cases
"A tree faller was fatally struck by a rotting tree while working within the area of a forest license held by West Fraser Mills Ltd. The faller was employed by an independent contractor. As the license holder, West Fraser Mills was the “owner” of the workplace, as defined in Part 3 of the Workers Compensation Act.
The Workers’ Compensation Board investigated the accident and concluded that West Fraser Mills had failed to ensure that all activities of the forestry operation were planned and conducted in a manner consistent with s. 26.2(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, which had been adopted by the Board pursuant to s. 225 of the Act. The Board also imposed an administrative penalty on West Fraser Mills pursuant to s. 196(1) of the Act, which permits the Board to penalize an “employer”. These aspects of its decision were confirmed by the review division. The Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal dismissed West Fraser Mills’ appeal, but reduced the administrative penalty. The British Columbia Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal upheld the Tribunal’s order."
The S.C.C. held (6:3, with 3 separate dissenting reasons) that the appeal is dismissed.
Chief Justice McLachlin wrote as follows (at paras. 22-23, 40):
"I conclude that s. 26.2(1) represents a reasonable exercise of the delegated power conferred on the Board by s. 225 of the Act to “make regulations [it] considers necessary or advisable in relation to occupational health and safety and occupational environment”.
It is true that this Court, in Dunsmuir, referred to prior jurisprudence to indicate that true questions of jurisdiction, which some suggest the present matter raises, are subject to review on a standard of correctness — noting, however, the importance of taking a robust view of jurisdiction. Post-Dunsmuir, it has been suggested that such cases will be rare: Alberta (Information and Privacy Commissioner) v. Alberta Teachers’ Association, 2011 SCC 61,  3 S.C.R. 654, at para. 33. We need not delve into this debate in the present appeal. Where the statute confers a broad power on a board to determine what regulations are necessary or advisable to accomplish the statute’s goals, the question the court must answer is not one of vires in the traditional sense, but whether the regulation at issue represents a reasonable exercise of the delegated power, having regard to those goals, as we explained in Catalyst and Green, two recent post-Dunsmuir decisions of this Court where the Court unanimously identified the applicable standard of review in this regard to be reasonableness. In any event, s. 26.2(1) of the Regulation plainly falls within the broad authority granted by s. 225 of the Act as an exercise of statutory interpretation. This is so even if no deference is accorded to the Board and if we disregard all of the external policy considerations offered in support of its position.
...we arrive at the crux of the debate. The Tribunal had before it two competing plausible interpretations of s. 196(1) (although it did not articulate the options precisely as I have). One was a narrow approach that would undermine the goals of the statute. The other was a broad approach, which both recognized the complexity of overlapping and interacting roles on the actual worksite and would further the goals of the statute and the scheme built upon it. The Tribunal chose the second approach. Was this choice “openly, clearly [and] evidently unreasonable” so as to border on the absurd? I cannot conclude that it was."
Note: The summary and body are drawn from Eugene Meehan’s SupremeAdvocacy Weekly Updates for the Law Community.