This Week At The SCC (02/08/2013)

A Commentary on Recent Legal Developments by the Opinions Group of McCarthy Tétrault LLP

The Supreme Court of Canada released two decisions this week of interest to Canadian businesses and professions.

The first, Marine Services International Ltd. v. Ryan Estate, 2013 SCC 44, involved the constitutional relationship between provincial workers compensation legislation and the federal jurisdiction over navigation and shipping. As my colleague Byron Shaw discussed in a previous post, the respondents in Marine Services were the estates of two fisherman who died at sea after their boat capsized. They applied for and obtained compensation under the Newfoundland and Labrador Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Act (the "WHSCA"). While s. 44 of the WHSCA creates a statutory bar to civil proceedings where a party has obtained compensation under the statute, the respondents also brought a negligence action against the appellants (the manufacturer and architect of the capsized ship, and the federal government for inspecting it) under s. 6(2) of the federal Maritime Liability Act (the "MLA"). The respondents had successfully argued in the Court of Appeal below that s. 44 did not bar their claim, since it was inapplicable and inoperative based on the constitutional doctrines of interjurisdictional immunity and federal legislative paramountcy. However, the Supreme Court overturned this ruling. In addition to finding that the appellants could rely upon s. 44 of the WHSCA depsite the fact that they did not have a "direct employment relationship" with the deceased at the time of their deaths, the Court held that s. 44 was both constitutionally applicable and operative.

The Marine Services decision continues the Supreme Court's narrow approach to the interjurisdictional immunity doctrine taken in Canadian Western Bank v. Alberta, [2007] 2 S.C.R. 3. The Court held that s. 44 of the WHSCA did not engage the doctrine since, despite trenching on the core of the federal power over navigation and shipping, it did not rise to the level of "impairing" that power. In arriving at this conclusion, the Court distinguished its prior decision in Ordon Estate v. Grail, [1998] 3 S.C.R. 437 - where it had held that interjurisdictional immunity applies when a provincial statute of general application has the effect of indirectly regulating a maritime negligence law issue - on the ground that it was decided prior to Canadian Western Bank.

As to the paramountcy doctrine...

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