Constitutional Issues in Maritime Law
Commentaries are intended as an introduction or overview of the topic. The commentaries for some topics are more detailed than others but none of them should be taken as a complete and full recitation of the law applicable to the topic.
Constitutional Issues/Canadian Maritime Law
The cases under this topic consider the division of powers between the federal and provincial governments under the Constitution Act in relation to maritime matters. Such issues normally arise where a provincial law of general application purports to apply to a fact situation with a marine component or where a provincial law provides a different remedy than Canadian maritime law. (It should be noted that constitutional issues can arise in cases concerning the Admiralty jurisdiction of the Federal Court and, for this reason, cases digested under the topic Admiralty Jurisdiction may also be relevant and should be consulted.)
The analytical framework to be used in a division of powers analysis has changed significantly over the years and, in particular, since 2007. Prior to 2007, in division of powers disputes, the constitutional doctrine of interjurisdictional immunity was frequently applied to render provincial statutes inapplicable to matters within federal legislative jurisdiction. In Canadian Western Bank v. Alberta, 2007 SCC 22 (a non-marine case) and British Columbia (Attorney General) v. Lafarge Canada Inc., 2007 SCC 23, the Supreme Court of Canada was extremely critical of the interjurisdictional immunity doctrine finding that it unfairly favoured parliament over the provincial legislatures, created uncertainty and was not compatible with "flexible federalism". To rectify these perceived inequities, the Supreme Court modified the analytical framework to be used in division of powers disputes. The currently applicable analytical framework is as follows:
1. Pith and Substance: The first step is to analyze the pith and substance of the impugned legislation. This involves an inquiry into the true nature of the law in question to identify the "matter" to which it essentially relates. Two aspects of the law must be considered; the purpose of the enacting legislature in adopting it and the legal effect of the law. If the pith and substance analysis leads to the conclusion that the law is in relation to a matter coming within the legislative jurisdiction of the enacting body under the Constitution Act, then it is valid and the potential application of the interjurisdictional immunity and paramountcy doctrines must be considered. If the pith and substance analysis leads to the conclusion that the law is invalid, that is the end of the matter.
2. After the pith and substance analysis, the court should generally proceed to a consideration of the doctrine of paramountcy before interjurisdictional immunity. The potential application of the interjurisdictional immunity doctrine should generally be considered only where there is prior case law favouring its application to the subject matter at hand. The doctrine is of limited application and should generally be reserved for situations already covered by precedent.
3.Paramountcy: Paramountcy involves an inconsistency between the provincial enactment and the federal enactment. Where a provincial statute is inconsistent with a federal statute, the provincial law is inoperative to the extent of the inconsistency. The inconsistency can be actual conflict in operation such as where one statute says "yes" and the other "no". Inconsistency can also arise when the provincial statute has the effect of frustrating the purpose of the federal statute. The standard for frustration of purpose is high. A provincial statute will not be found to frustrate the purpose of a federal statute merely because it restricts a permissive federal statute.
4. Interjurisdictional Immunity: Prior to 2007, the interjurisdictional immunity doctrine was invoked whenever a provincial law "affects" a vital or essential part of a federal power or undertaking. The so-called "affects" test was modified in Canadian Western Bank v. Alberta and British Columbia (Attorney General) v. Lafarge Canada Inc. such that the doctrine now only applies when the provincial law "impairs", without necessarily sterilizing or paralyzing, the “basic, minimum and unassailable content” or “core” of the federal legislative power in question. "Impairs" implies that there must be adverse consequences. The "core" of a federal legislative power means “the minimum content necessary to make the federal power effective for the purpose for which it was conferred”.
The new analytical framework developed for division of powers disputes would appear to make it more likely that provincial laws of general application will apply to matters that are otherwise governed by Canadian maritime law. Recent examples include: R. v. Mersey Seafoods Ltd.,2008 NSCA 67 (occupational health and safety legislation); Jim Pattison Ent. v. Workers' Compensation Board, 2011 BCCA 3 (occupational health and safety legislation); and, Marine Services International Ltd. v. Ryan Estate, 2013 SCC 44 (workers' compensation legislation). However, there are also many recent cases where provincial laws were held not to be applicable, including, British Columbia (Attorney General) v. Lafarge Canada Inc., Chalets St-Adolphe inc. v. St-Adolphe d'Howard (Municipalit de), 2011 QCCA 1491 and West Kelowna (District) v. Newcombe, 2015 BCCA 5, all of which concerned municipal by-laws.
For further background and a historical review of the important cases in this area please see the below papers but take note that the papers are not current and this area continues to develop.
Statutes and Regs
The database contains 46 case summaries relating to Constitutional Issues in Maritime Law. The summaries are sorted in reverse date order with 20 summaries per page. If there are more than 20 summaries, use the navigation links at the bottom of the page.
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Fatal Diving accident - Application of Canadian Maritime Law - Limitation Periods
Dreifelds v. Burton, 1998 CanLII 5013
This was an appeal from a decision of the Ontario Court General Division. The case concerned a fatal scuba diving accident in Lake Ontario. A chartered vessel was used to take the divers to the dive site but the vessel was otherwise not involved in the accident. The deceased died from a gas embolism. The issue in the case was whether the accident was governed by Canadian maritime law and the one year limitation period in the Canada Shipping Act or by the two year period in the Ontario Family Law Act. Both at the trial level and on appeal it was held that the case was not governed by Canadian maritime law and that the two year period in the Family Law Act applied. The Court of Appeal noted that "not every tortious activity engaged in on Canada's waterways is subject to Canadian maritime law. Only if the activity sued about is sufficiently connected with navigation or shipping... will it fall to be resolved under Canadian maritime law."
It is noteworthy that the Court of Appeal said, in obiter dicta, that if the case was governed by the one year limitation period in the Canada Shipping Act, the Court would nevertheless have the inherent jurisdiction to extend the one year limitation period and would have done so in the absence of any prejudice to the Defendants. (Editor's Note: Compare this to the decision of the British Columbia Supreme Court in Vogel v Sawbridge et.al.(April 3, 1996) No. 24638 Kelowna Registry (B.C.S.C.) where that Court refused to recognize any such inherent jurisdiction.)
Bow Valley Husky Ltd. v. St. John Shipbuilding Ltd., 1997 CanLII 307
This is an extremely important case that all maritime law practitioners should read carefully. The case involved a breach of contract and negligence claim relating to the building of an off shore oil platform owned by the Plaintiff. The significant maritime law issue was whether the Plaintiff's claim was barred by reason of contributory negligence. The Defendant argued that because the matter was governed by Canadian Maritime Law the Newfoundland Contributory Negligence Act, which would have apportioned liability, did not apply and the Plaintiff's claim was barred. The Supreme Court of Canada agreed that the Newfoundland Contributory Negligence Act did not apply to maritime torts. The court noted that the "(a)pplication of provincial laws to maritime torts would undercut the uniformity of maritime law". Nevertheless, the court said that this was "an appropriate case for ... an incremental change to the common law in compliance with the requirements of justice and fairness". The court held that the contributory negligence bar did not apply to maritime torts. This case is of significance not only because of the ruling on contributory negligence but also because the court dealt specifically with the so called "gap rule" (which holds that, for matters within the constitutional jurisdiction of both the provinces and the federal government, the provinces may legislate where the federal government has not done so). The court held that the absence of federal legislation did not mean there was a "gap" which the provinces could fill because the common law applied to fill any such gap. ( Although not specifically enunciated in the judgement, presumably this is because the Federal Court Act enacts the common law as Canadian Maritime Law.) The significance of this may be that no provincial statute can ever apply to a matter governed by Canadian Maritime Law.
Contribution and Indemnity
Ferguson v. Arctic Transportation Ltd. et.al., No. T-1941-93 (F.C.T.D.)
The issue in this matter was whether the Federal Court had jurisdiction to determine issues of contribution and indemnity raised in a Third Party action. The facts were that the Plaintiff, a pilot with the Panama Canal Commission, was injured on board a ship owned and operated by the Defendants while it was transiting the Panama Canal. The Defendant commenced Third Party proceedings against the Panama Canal Commission alleging that the Plaintiff's injuries were caused by the negligence of employees of the Commission. The Commission argued that the claim for contribution and indemnity was not a claim recognized by Canadian Maritime Law and was therefore not within the jurisdiction of the Federal Court. The Court, however, held that it did have jurisdiction as the claim related to pilotage. The Court further noted that Canadian Maritime Law includes the law of torts.
Contribution and Indemnity
Canada v. Mallett and Associates Engineering Ltd., 1997 CanLII 9838
This was an action against the Defendant for breach of contract and negligence in relation to dredging of the Liverpool Harbour and construction of a containment facility. The Defendant in turn brought Third Party proceedings against subcontractors. The Third Parties brought this application to strike out the Third Party proceedings on the grounds that they were governed by Canadian Maritime Law which did not recognize a claim for contribution and indemnity. The Court refused to strike out the proceedings holding, first, that it was not clear the matter was entirely governed by Canadian Maritime Law and, secondly, that it was arguable whether there was a right to contribution and indemnity under Canadian Maritime Law.
Negligence of Refinery - Contributory Negligence
Newfoundland Processing Ltd. v. The "South Angela",,  1 FC 154
The issue in this case was who was responsible for an oil spill that occurred at the Come By Chance Oil refinery. The spill resulted after the Defendant vessel had discharged its cargo of crude and was involved in a line draining process. The Court held that both the Plaintiff and Defendant were equally at fault. The Plaintiff was at fault in that the cause of the spill was a backflow from the refinery and there were no check valves in place which, although not required by law, would have made the Plaintiff aware of the backflow. The Defendant was at fault in that it had failed to close a valve which, if closed, would have prevented the backflow from entering the slop tank and overflowing into the sea. The Court further held that the contributory negligence of the Plaintiff was not a bar to recovery. In doing so the Court relied upon and adopted the reasoning of the Newfoundland Court of Appeal in Bow Valley (Husky) Bermuda v Saint John Shipbuilding Limited, (1995) 130 Nfld. & PEIR 92.
Fatal Accidents - Application of Provincial Legislation - Limitation Periods
Vogel v. Sawbridge et.al., No. 24638 No. 24639 Kelowna Registry (B.C.S.C.)
This was a summary trial to dismiss two actions as time barred. The actions arose out of the deaths of two persons aboard the yacht "Kingfisher" while it was moored at Nanaimo Harbour, British Columbia. It was alleged in the Statement of Claim that the deaths were caused by the faulty operation of a heater in the yacht which emitted high levels of carbon monoxide. The deaths occurred on December 22, 1992 but actions were not commenced until December 21, 1994. The Plaintiffs claimed relief under the Family Compensation Act of British Columbia. The British Columbia Supreme Court, following the earlier decision of the British Columbia Court of Appeal in Shulman v McCallum  7 W.W.R. 567, held that the actions were governed by Canadian Maritime Law and not the provincial Family Compensation Act. Accordingly, the Court held that the actions were governed by the fatal accident provisions of the Canada Shipping Act and that the applicable limitation period was therefore the one year period provided by s.649 of that Act. The Court refused to exercise any inherent jurisdiction to extend the limitation period stating that to do so would conflict with and abrogate the clear provisions of a statute which contained no curative provisions. EDITORS NOTE: This decision should be read and relied upon with care given the subsequent Supreme Court of Canada decision in Ordon v Grail.
Liability - Unsafe Speed - Anchor lights - Contributory Negligence - Limitation - Owner/Master Entitlement to Limit
Conrad v. Snair, 1995 CanLII 4175
This case involved a collision at night between a Boston Whaler and an anchored unlit sailboat. As a result of the collision, a passenger of the Boston Whaler was seriously injured. The issues concerned the liability for the collision, contributory negligence, and limitation of liability. Both the trial Judge and the Court of Appeal found that the driver of the Boston Whaler was entirely at fault for the collision. The driver was found to have been traveling at an excessive rate of speed and failed to maintain a proper lookout. With respect to the sailboat, the trial Judge and the Court of Appeal held that there was no presumption of fault because of the failure to exhibit an anchor light. They further found that there was a local custom to not display anchor lights. The driver of the Boston Whaler also argued that his passenger was contributorily negligent in that she knew of his propensity to drive his boat in a particular manner. The Court of Appeal held that even if the master was known to be reckless, that would be an insufficient basis for a finding of contributory negligence. Although in light of these findings, the Court of Appeal did not need to decide whether contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff would be a complete bar to damages, it nevertheless gave the opinion that if the Plaintiff had been negligent, the Provincial contributory negligence statute would apply to apportion damages. Finally, the driver of the Boston Whaler argued that he was entitled to limit his liability under the Canada Shipping Act because the accident occurred while he was acting in his capacity as master and not owner of the vessel. In lengthy reasons the Court of Appeal analyzed the problems that arise where the master is also the owner. Ultimately, the Court agreed with the trial Judge that the owner/master of the Boston Whaler was at fault as owner in failing to ensure his alter ego, the master, traveled at a safe speed.