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Agriculture - Agricultural Employee Protection Act, 2002 (Ont) Cases

. United Food and Commercial Workers International Union v. Aurora Cannabis Enterprises Inc.

In United Food and Commercial Workers International Union v. Aurora Cannabis Enterprises Inc. (Div Ct, 2021) the Divisional Court set out a brief, recent history of labour law and agricultural workers, including a 2011 SCC freedom of association Charter case [paras 48-50]:
[4] Before 1994, agricultural workers were excluded from the labour relations scheme in the Labour Relations Act, 1995, S.O. 1995, c. 1, Sched. A (“LRA”), the legislation that generally governs collective bargaining in the private sector in Ontario. The LRA is administered by the Ontario Labour Relations Board (“OLRB”). Since 1943, the dominant model for labour relations in Canada has been the American “Wagner Act” regime, which permits certification of trade unions as exclusive bargaining agents for bargaining units and a right to strike.

[5] In 1994, Ontario enacted the Agriculture Labour Relations Act, 1994, S.O. 1994, c. 6 (“ALRA”), which granted trade union and collective bargaining rights to agricultural workers. A year later, the ALRA was repealed, and that repeal was challenged as being a violation of s. 2(d) of the Charter, the right to freedom of association (see Dunmore v. Ontario (Attorney General), 2001 SCC 94). The Supreme Court of Canada found that the inability of agricultural workers to organize without protective legislation was a violation of the Charter. However, the Court was clear in Dunmore that agricultural workers did not have a right to collective bargaining under a Wagner Act model. It was the exclusion of agricultural workers from any process of collective bargaining that resulted in a finding that their freedom of association under s. 2(d) of the Charter was violated.

[6] Following Dunmore, Ontario enacted legislation to govern the collective bargaining rights of agricultural workers. The legislation did not accord workers the right to withdraw their services, because of the potentially catastrophic effect of a sudden withdrawal of services in the agricultural sector. Instead, the Legislature provided for interest arbitration when negotiations reached an impasse.

[7] This legislation was repealed after a change of government in Ontario. In place of the interest arbitration solution, new legislation, the AEPA, was enacted. It creates a distinct labour regime for agricultural workers and excludes them from the LRA. The AEPA provides the rights of agricultural employees to:
1. Form or join an employees’ association (s. 1(2)(1))

2. Participate in lawful activities of an employees’ association (s. 1(2)(2))

3. Assemble (s. 1(2)(3))

4. Make representations at reasonable opportunities to their employers, through an employees’ association, respecting the terms and conditions of their employment (s. 5) and

5. Protection against interference, coercion, and discrimination in the exercise of their rights (ss. 8-10).
[8] The Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal is responsible for the administration of the AEPA. Section 11 provides that interested parties, including employees’ associations, may apply to the Tribunal alleging that there has been a contravention of the AEPA.

[9] The AEPA and the LRA are very different statutory schemes. Most notably, the LRA establishes an exclusive collective bargaining scheme, whereby all employees in a bargaining unit are represented by the same union. This exclusive bargaining agent model is referred to as the “Wagner Act” model. By contrast, the AEPA provides for a non-exclusive bargaining agent model, where multiple employee associations may represent different groups of employees in a single workplace. The LRA also establishes processes that employers and unions must follow before engaging in a strike or lockout, while the AEPA is silent with respect to strikes or lockouts.

[10] The constitutionality of the AEPA was challenged based on the Supreme Court of Canada’s prior decision in Dunmore. This challenge reached the Supreme Court of Canada, which upheld the AEPA’s constitutionality in Fraser v. Ontario (Attorney General), 2011 SCC 20.


[35] Section 5 of the AEPA deals with the right of agricultural employees to make representations to their employer. Subsection 5(1) sets out the employer’s obligation:
The employer shall give an employees’ association a reasonable opportunity to make representations respecting the terms and conditions of employment of one or more of its members who are employed by that employer.
[36] Subsection 5(3) sets out three considerations relevant to the determination of whether a “reasonable opportunity” has been given:
1. The timing of the representations relative to planting and harvesting times.

2. The timing of the representations relative to concerns that may arise in running an agricultural operation, including, but not limited to, weather, animal health and safety and plant health.

3. Frequency and repetitiveness of the representations.
Subsection 5(4) specifies that these three conditions are not a complete list of relevant considerations.


[48] As mentioned earlier in these reasons, the validity of the AEPA was challenged once before as a violation of s. 2(d) of the Charter, the right to freedom of association. The legislation was held to be constitutionally valid in Fraser in 2011. The summary found in para. 2 of the majority reasons of the Supreme Court of Canada in Fraser explains why:
Section 2(d) of the Charter protects the right to associate to achieve collective goals. Laws or state actions that substantially interfere with the ability to achieve workplace goals through collective actions have the effect of negating the right of free association and therefore constitute a limit on the s. 2(d) right of free association, which renders the law or action unconstitutional unless it is justified under s. 1 of the Charter. This requires a process of engagement that permits employee associations to make representations to employers, which employers must consider and discuss in good faith.
[49] The Supreme Court emphasized in Fraser that s. 2(d) of the Charter does not protect a particular model of collective bargaining, such as the Wagner Act model (at para. 45). The Court set out the test for a s. 2(d) infringement as follows (at para. 47).:
If it is shown that it is impossible to meaningfully exercise the right to associate due to substantial interference by a law (or absence of laws: see Dunmore) or by government action, a limit on the exercise of the s. 2(d) right is established, and the onus shifts to the state to justify the limit under s. 1 of the Charter.
[50] With respect to the AEPA, the Court concluded that s. 5, properly interpreted, imposed a requirement on an employer to negotiate with employees in good faith, and thus it was compliant with s. 2(d) (at para. 107). The Court also rejected the argument that the process under the AEPA would be ineffective, because there was little history of negotiations under the Act, and the process before the Tribunal, to enforce the good faith obligation, had not been pursued by those challenging the legislation (at paras. 109-112).


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Last modified: 12-11-22
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