Slaight Communications Incorporated v Davidson  1 S.C.R. 1038: --Adjudicator ordering employer to give unjustly dismissed employee letter of recommendation with specified content -- Adjudicator also ordering employer to answer request for information about employee only by sending letter --Whether orders infringe employer's freedom of expression -- Unjust dismissal -- Jurisdiction of adjudicator
Constitutional law -- Charter of Rights -- Freedom of expression --Adjudicator ordering employer to give unjustly dismissed employee letter of recommendation with specified content -- Adjudicator also ordering employer to answer request for information about employee only by sending letter --Whether orders infringe employer's freedom of expression guaranteed by s. 2(b) of Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- If so, whether limitation on freedom of expression justifiable under s. 1 of Charter -- Canada Labour Code, R.S.C. 1970, c. L-1, s. 61.5(9)(c).
Labour relations -- Unjust dismissal -- Jurisdiction of adjudicator -- Adjudicator ordering employer to give unjustly dismissed employee letter of recommendation with specified content -- Adjudicator also ordering employer to answer request for information about employee only by sending letter -- Whether s. 61.5(9)(c) of Canada Labour Code authorizes adjudicator to make such orders -- Whether orders infringe employer's freedom of expression guaranteed by s. 2(b) of Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- If so, whether limitation on freedom of expression justifiable under s. 1 of Charter -- Whether orders unreasonable in administrative law sense.
Respondent had been employed by appellant as a "radio time salesman" for three and a half years when he was dismissed on the ground that his performance was inadequate. Respondent filed a complaint and an adjudicator appointed by the Minister of Labour under s. 61.5(6) of the Canada Labour Code held that respondent had been unjustly dismissed. Based on s. 61.5(9)(c) of the Code, the adjudicator made an initial order imposing on appellant an obligation to give respondent a letter of recommendation certifying (1) that he had been employed by the radio station from June 1980 to January 20, 1984; (2) the sales quotas he had been set and the amount of sales he actually made during this period; and (3) that an adjudicator had held that he was unjustly dismissed. The order specifically indicated the amounts to be shown as sales quotas and as sales actually made. A second order prohibited appellant from answering a request for information about respondent except by sending the letter of recommendation. The Federal Court of Appeal dismissed an application by appellant to review and set aside the adjudicator's decision. The purpose of the appeal at bar is to determine whether s. 61.5(9)(c) of the Code authorizes an adjudicator to make such orders; and in particular, whether the orders infringed appellant's freedom of expression guaranteed by s. 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Held (Beetz J. dissenting and Lamer J. dissenting in part): The appeal should be dismissed. The orders infringe s. 2(b) of the Charter but are justifiable under s. 1.
The Charter applies to orders made by the adjudicator. The adjudicator is a creature of statute. He is appointed pursuant to a legislative provision and derives all his powers from statute. The Constitution is the supreme law of Canada, and any law that is inconsistent with its provisions is, to the extent of the inconsistency, of no force or effect. It is thus impossible to interpret legislation conferring discretion as conferring a power to infringe the Charter, unless, of course, that power is expressly conferred or necessarily implied. Such an interpretation would require this Court to declare the legislation to be of no force or effect, unless it could be justified under s. 1 of the Charter. It follows that an adjudicator, who exercises delegated powers, does not have the power to make an order that would result in an infringement of the Charter.
The word "like" in the English version of s. 61.5(9)(c) of the Canada Labour Code does not have the effect of limiting the powers conferred on the adjudicator by allowing him to make only orders similar to the orders expressly mentioned in paras. (a) and (b) of that subsection. Interpreting this provision in this way would mean applying the ejusdem generis rule. It is impossible to apply this rule in the case at bar since one of the conditions essential for its application -- the presence of a common characteristic or common genus -- has not been met. The interpretation according to which the word "like" in the English version of para. (c) does not have the effect of limiting the general power conferred on the adjudicator is also more consistent with the general scheme of the Code, and in particular with the purpose of Division V.7, which is to give non-unionized employees a means of challenging a dismissal they feel to be unjust and at the same time to equip the adjudicator with the powers necessary to remedy the consequences of such a dismissal.
Per Dickson C.J. and Wilson, La Forest and L'Heureux-Dubé JJ.: The adjudicator's orders were reasonable in the administrative law sense. Administrative law unreasonableness, as a preliminary standard of review, should not impose a more onerous standard upon government than would Charter review. While patent unreasonableness is important to maintain for questions untouched by the Charter, such as review of determinations of fact, in the realm of value inquiry the courts should have recourse to this standard only in the clearest of cases in which a decision could not be justified under s. 1 of the Charter.
The adjudicator's first order infringed s. 2(b) of the Charter but is saved under s. 1.
The adjudicator's second order also infringed s. 2(b) of the Charter. It was an attempt to prevent the appellant from expressing its opinion as to the respondent's qualifications beyond the facts set out in the letter. But this order, too, was justifiable under s. 1. First, the objective was of sufficient importance to warrant overriding appellant's freedom of expression. Like the first order, the objective of the second order was to counteract the effects of the unjust dismissal by enhancing the ability of the employee to seek new employment without being lied about by the previous employer. The adjudicator's remedy was a legislatively-sanctioned attempt to remedy the unequal balance of power that normally exists between an employer and employee. The governmental objective, in a general sense, was that of protection of a particularly vulnerable group, or members thereof. To constitutionally protect freedom of expression in this case would be tantamount to condoning the continuation of an abuse of an already unequal relationship. Second, the means chosen were reasonable. Like the first order, the second order was rationally linked to the objective. With the proven history of promoting a fabricated version of the quality of respondent's service and the concern that the employer would continue to treat him unfairly if he went back to work for the employer, it was rational for the adjudicator to attach a rider to the order for a reference letter so as to ensure that the employer's representatives did not subvert the effect of the letter by unjustifiably maligning its previous employee in the guise of giving a reference. Further, no less intrusive measure could have been taken and still achieved the objective with any likelihood. Monetary compensation would not have been an acceptable substitute because it would only have been compensation for the economic, not the personal, effects of unemployment. Labour should not be treated as a commodity and every day without work as exhaustively reducible to some pecuniary value. The letter was tightly and carefully designed to reflect only a very narrow range of facts which were not really contested. The appellant was not forced to state opinions which were not its own. The prohibition was also very circumscribed. It was triggered only in cases when the appellant was contacted for a reference and there was no requirement to send the letter to anyone other then prospective employers. In short, the adjudicator went no further than was necessary to achieve the objective. Finally, the effects of the measures were not so deleterious as to outweigh the objective of the measures. The objective in this case was a very important one, especially in light of Canada's international treaty commitment to protect the right to work in its various dimensions. For purposes of this final stage of the proportionality inquiry, the fact that a value has the status of an international human right, either in customary international law under a treaty to which Canada is a State Party, should generally be indicative of a high degree of importance attached to that objective.
Per Lamer J. (dissenting in part): The adjudicator did not exceed his jurisdiction by ordering appellant to give respondent a letter of recommendation with a specified content. Apart from the Charter, the only limitation imposed by s. 61.5(9)(c) is that the order must be designed to "remedy or counteract any consequence of the dismissal". That is the case here. The order prevents appellant's decision to dismiss respondent from having negative consequences for the latter's chances of finding new employment. Ordering an employer to give a former employee a letter of recommendation containing only objective facts that are not in dispute is not as such unreasonable and there is nothing to indicate that the adjudicator was pursuing an improper objective or acting in bad faith or in a discriminatory manner.
However, the adjudicator exceeded his jurisdiction by prohibiting appellant from answering a request for information about respondent other than by sending the letter of recommendation. Though the order is also meant to remedy or counteract the consequences of the dismissal, its effect, by prohibiting appellant from adding any comments whatever, is to create circumstances in which the letter could be seen as the expression of appellant's opinions. This type of penalty is totalitarian and as such alien to the tradition of free nations like Canada. Parliament therefore cannot have intended to authorize such an unreasonable use of the discretion conferred by it. The adjudicator lost this jurisdiction when he made a patently unreasonable order.
The first order limits appellant's freedom of expression but this limitation, which is prescribed by law -- the order made by the adjudicator is only an exercise of the discretion conferred on him by statute -- can be justified under s. 1 of the Charter. The purpose of the order is clearly, as required by the Code, to counteract the consequences of the unjust dismissal. Such an objective is sufficiently important to warrant a limitation on freedom of expression. It is essential for the legislator to provide mechanisms to restore equilibrium in employer/employee relations so the employee will not be subject to arbitrary action by the employer. Additionally, the means chosen to attain the objective are reasonable in the circumstances. The order is fair and was carefully designed. The purpose of the letter of recommendation is to correct the false impression given by the fact of the dismissal and it contains only facts that are not in dispute. It is rationally connected to the dismissal since in certain cases it is the only way of effectively remedying the consequences of the dismissal. Finally, the consequences of the order are proportional to the objective sought. The latter is important in our society. The limitation on freedom of expression is not what could be described as very serious. It does not abolish that freedom, but simply limits its exercise by requiring the employer to write something determined in advance.
Per Beetz J. (dissenting): Except for the attestation relating to the unjust dismissal, the first order violated the appellant's freedoms of opinion and of expression and could not be justified under s. 1 of the Charter. This order forced the employer to write, as if they were his own, statements of facts in which, rightly or wrongly, he may not believe, or which he may ultimately find or think to be inaccurate, misleading or false. In short, the order may force the appellant to lie. To order the affirmation of facts, apart from belief in their veracity by the person who is ordered to affirm them constitutes a prima facie violation of the freedoms of opinion and expression. Such a violation was totalitarian in nature and could never be justified under s. 1 of the Charter.
The second order, coupled with the first, also violated the former employer's freedoms of opinion and of expression in a manner which was not justified under s. 1 of the Charter. The sending of the letter as drafted by the adjudicator, coupled with the prohibition to say or write anything else could lead to the implication that the former employer had no further comment to make upon the performance of the respondent and that, accordingly, the letter reflected the opinion of the former employer. In any event, the second order was disproportionate and unreasonable. One should view with extreme suspicion an administrative order or even a judicial order which has the effect of preventing the litigants from commenting upon and even criticizing the rulings of the deciding board or court.
Further, in cases of unjust dismissal, the issuance by an adjudicator of a blanket and perpetual prohibition against a former employer to write or say anything to a prospective employer but what the adjudicator has dictated in the letter of recommendation can lead to absurd and even counter-productive results. The adjudicator cannot foresee all the possible types of exchanges which are susceptible to occur between former and prospective employers. The absurdity which results from the adjudicator's second order is sufficient to warrant its reversal. If it is disproportionate and unreasonable from a practical point of view, then it has to be unreasonable from an administrative law point of view and it is difficult to conceive how it could be reasonable within the meaning of s. 1 of the Charter.
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