Tessier Ltee. v. Quebec

In Constitutional Issues in Maritime Law on (Updated )

Précis: The Supreme Court of Canada addressed whether and when stevedoring activities are governed by provincial occupational health and safety legislation. Notably, the court said that shipping activities undertaken solely within a province are subject to provincial law.

The plaintiff was engaged in the business of renting heavy equipment, including cranes, and also in the business of equipment repair and road transportation. All of its activities were conducted in the Province of Quebec. Approximately 14%,20% of its activities involved crane rentals for stevedoring services but the employees involved in these services were also involved in other activities. Because of its stevedoring activities, the plaintiff sought a declaration that it was subject to federal jurisdiction and not to Quebec’s occupational health and safety legislation.

Decision: The plaintiff was subject to provincial law.

Held: The Supreme Court of Canada began its analysis by noting that legislation respecting labour relations is presumptively a provincial matter since it engages the provinces’ authority over property and civil rights. The Court further noted that the federal government has jurisdiction to regulate employment in two circumstances: when the employment relates to a work, undertaking, or business within the legislative authority of Parliament; or when it is an integral part of a federally regulated undertaking. Although it was recognized that s.91(10) of the Constitution Act gives Parliament exclusive jurisdiction over navigation and shipping, the court said it did not give Parliament absolute authority. Section 91(10) had to be read in light of s. 92(10) which gives the provinces jurisdiction over local works and undertakings. Shipping undertakings within a province are subject to provincial jurisdiction. Therefore jurisdiction in a particular case depends on the territorial scope of the shipping activities in question. Moreover, since stevedoring is not a transportation activity that crosses provincial boundaries, it cannot come within federal jurisdiction under s. 91(10) but can only be subject to federal jurisdiction if it is integral to a federal undertaking. The test is met when the services provided to the federal undertaking form the exclusive or principal part of the related work’s activities or when the services provided to the federal undertaking are performed by employees who form a functionally discrete unit that can be constitutionally characterized separately from the rest of the related operation. The plaintiff’s stevedoring activities formed a relatively minor part of its overall operations which were local in nature and the stevedoring operations were integrated with its other activities and did not form a functionally discrete unit.