Laboucane v. Brooks et al.

In Constitutional Issues in Maritime Law on (Updated )

The issue in this important summary trial application was whether section 10(1) of the Workers Compensation Act of British Columbia was valid provincial law or whether it was ultra vires the province as infringing upon Federal jurisdiction over navigation and shipping. The underlying facts were that the Plaintiff was injured while performing a welding job on the Defendant’s fishing vessel. The Plaintiff commenced these proceedings against the Defendant alleging his injuries were caused by the Defendant’s negligence. The main defence to the action was that both Plaintiff and Defendant were “workers” within the meaning of the Workers Compensation Act, that the accident arose out of and during the course of employment and that s. 10(1) of that Act prohibited the Plaintiff from commencing or continuing the action. The Court reviewed many of the leading constitutional authorities and concluded that the proper approach was to first determine the “pith and substance” of the enactment and then to determine whether the pith and substance of the enactment relates to one of the heads of power granted to the enacting legislature. Further, the Court noted that if the pith and substance falls within the class of subjects assigned to the Province then the legislation will be valid notwithstanding that it may have incidental or ancillary affects in areas of Federal jurisdiction. The Court rejected the submissions of the Plaintiff that the appropriate analysis was to assume the constitutional validity of the provision and to commence with the tests set out in Ordon v Grail, [1993] 3 SCR 437. Applying the pith and substance approach the Court had little difficulty in concluding that the pith and substance of s. 10(1) of the Workers Compensation Act was solely within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Province in relation to Property and Civil Rights. The Court further held that the fact that the accident took place on a vessel was of no relevance and that the subject matter was not integrally connected with maritime matters and did not fall to be resolved under Canadian Maritime Law. In fact, the Court found there was no encroachment upon the Federal power over navigation and shipping. (Editors Note: It is arguably difficult to reconcile the approach in this case with the four part test set out in Ordon v Grail, [1993] 3 SCR 437. Additionally, it is difficult to reconcile the finding in this case that there was no encroachment on Federal jurisdiction when the Supreme Court of Canada in Ordon v Grail held that Maritime negligence law is a core element of Federal jurisdiction and that it was constitutionally impermissible for a provincial statute to regulate this area.)