Admiralty Jurisdiction

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Admiralty Jurisdiction

The cases under this title consider the Admiralty jurisdiction of the courts and which court has jurisdiction to hear a particular matter. More specifically, because the provincial superior courts have inherent jurisdiction, the cases usually concern the whether the Federal Court’s admiralty jurisdiction is invoked. It is important to note that the Admiralty jurisdiction of the Federal Court is closely related to the definition, nature and scope of the body of law known as Canadian Maritime Law which is, in turn, partly dependant upon the constitutional division of powers between the federal and provincial governments. Therefore, the cases digested under the topic Constitutional Issues may also be relevant and should be consulted when addressing a jurisdiction issue.

The Admiralty Jurisdiction of Provincial Courts

The provincial superior court’s have inherent jurisdiction which means that they have jurisdiction to hear all cases unless a statute specifically provides otherwise (see below for some examples of statutes that specifically provide otherwise). It is clear that they have admiralty jurisdiction, something which the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed in Ontario v Pembina Exploration., [1989] 1 SCR 206, at para. 15. Ontario v Pembina also stands for the proposition that a provincial inferior court, such as a small claims court, also has jurisdiction to hear admiralty cases. However, with the exception of British Columbia, the provincial courts do not have in rem actions or admiralty rules. Thus, as a practical matter, it is often prudent to commence admiralty cases in the Federal Court.

The Federal Court’s Concurrent Admiralty Jurisdiction

The Federal Court is a statutory court and, as such, has only the jurisdiction specifically given to it. Section 22 of the Federal Courts Act is the primary source of the Federal Court’s admiralty jurisdiction. Subsection 22(1) is a general grant of concurrent jurisdiction to hear and determine any case "in which a claim for relief is made or a remedy is sought under or by virtue of Canadian maritime law".

22. (1) The Federal Court has concurrent original jurisdiction, between subject and subject as well as otherwise, in all cases in which a claim for relief is made or a remedy is sought under or by virtue of Canadian maritime law or any other law of Canada relating to any matter coming within the class of subject of navigation and shipping, except to the extent that jurisdiction has been otherwise specially assigned.

Subsection 22(2) of the Federal Courts Act also enumerates 19 specific categories of claims over which the Federal Court has jurisdiction. The categories are:

(a) any claim with respect to title, possession or ownership of a ship or any part interest therein or with respect to the proceeds of sale of a ship or any part interest therein;
(b) any question arising between co-owners of a ship with respect to possession, employment or earnings of a ship;
(c) any claim in respect of a mortgage or hypothecation of, or charge on, a ship or any part interest therein or any charge in the nature of bottomry or respondentia for which a ship or part interest therein or cargo was made security;
(d) any claim for damage or for loss of life or personal injury caused by a ship either in collision or otherwise;
(e) any claim for damage sustained by, or for loss of, a ship including, without restricting the generality of the foregoing, damage to or loss of the cargo or equipment of, or any property in or on or being loaded on or off, a ship;
(f) any claim arising out of an agreement relating to the carriage of goods on a ship under a through bill of lading, or in respect of which a through bill of lading is intended to be issued, for loss or damage to goods occurring at any time or place during transit;
(g) any claim for loss of life or personal injury occurring in connection with the operation of a ship including, without restricting the generality of the foregoing, any claim for loss of life or personal injury sustained in consequence of any defect in a ship or in her apparel or equipment, or of the wrongful act, neglect or default of the owners, charterers or persons in possession or control of a ship or of the master or crew thereof or of any other person for whose wrongful acts, neglects or defaults the owners, charterers or persons in possession or control of the ship are responsible, being an act, neglect or default in the management of the ship, in the loading, carriage or discharge of goods on, in or from the ship or in the embarkation, carriage or disembarkation of persons on, in or from the ship;
(h) any claim for loss of or damage to goods carried in or on a ship including, without restricting the generality of the foregoing, loss of or damage to passengers’ baggage or personal effects;
(i) any claim arising out of any agreement relating to the carriage of goods in or on a ship or to the use or hire of a ship whether by charter party or otherwise;
(j) any claim for salvage including, without restricting the generality of the foregoing, claims for salvage of life, cargo, equipment or other property of, from or by an aircraft to the same extent and in the same manner as if the aircraft were a ship;
(k) any claim for towage in respect of a ship or of an aircraft while the aircraft is water-borne;
(l) any claim for pilotage in respect of a ship or of an aircraft while the aircraft is water-borne;
(m) any claim in respect of goods, materials or services wherever supplied to a ship for the operation or maintenance of the ship, including, without restricting the generality of the foregoing, claims in respect of stevedoring and lighterage;
(n) any claim arising out of a contract relating to the construction, repair or equipping of a ship;
(o) any claim by a master, officer or member of the crew of a ship for wages, money, property or other remuneration or benefits arising out of his or her employment;
(p) any claim by a master, charterer or agent of a ship or shipowner in respect of disbursements, or by a shipper in respect of advances, made on account of a ship;
(q) any claim in respect of general average contribution;
(r) any claim arising out of or in connection with a contract of marine insurance; and
(s) any claim for dock charges, harbour dues or canal tolls including, without restricting the generality of the foregoing, charges for the use of facilities supplied in connection therewith.

Because the Federal Court has jurisdiction to hear and determine any case "in which a claim for relief is made or a remedy is sought under or by virtue of Canadian maritime law", it is often necessary to determine the scope and content of "Canadian maritime law" in order to assess the full extent of the Federal Court’s admiralty jurisdiction. Canadian maritime law is a separate and distinct body of law defined in section 2 of the Federal Courts Act and enacted by s. 42 of the Federal Courts Act.

“Canadian maritime law” means the law that was administered by the Exchequer Court of Canada on its Admiralty side by virtue of the Admiralty Act, chapter A-1 of the Revised Statutes of Canada, 1970, or any other statute, or that would have been so administered if that Court had had, on its Admiralty side, unlimited jurisdiction in relation to maritime and admiralty matters, as that law has been altered by this Act or any other Act of Parliament;

42. Canadian maritime law as it was immediately before June 1, 1971 continues subject to such changes therein as may be made by this Act or any other Act of Parliament.

Since at least ITO Terminal Operators Ltd. v Miida Electronics Inc., [1986] 1 SCR 752, the test for a finding of jurisdiction in the Federal Court has required that three essential elements be established:

(1) that there is a statutory grant of jurisdiction to the Federal Court;

(2) that there is an existing body of federal law, essential to the disposition of the case, which nourishes the statutory grant of jurisdiction; and

(3) that the law on which the case is based must be "a law of Canada" as the phrase is used in s. 101 of the Constitution Act.

The first element of the above test, that there be a statutory grant of jurisdiction to the Federal Court, is necessary but not sufficient, by itself, to give the Federal Court jurisdiction. This part of the test is usually satisfied, in relation to maritime matters, by referring to s. 22 of the Federal Courts Act.

The second element of the above test is that there be existing federal law to nourish the statutory grant of jurisdiction. In maritime matters the federal law nourishing the statutory grant is usually Canadian maritime law as enacted by s. 42 of the Federal Courts Act. There is a very large body of case law that explores the nature, scope and content of Canadian maritime law in relation to Federal Court jurisdiction. The more recent cases are digested on this site and, as well, there are papers listed below that address this issue in detail. In general, Canadian maritime law is the law that governs matters relating to navigation and shipping. It is federal law that is uniform throughout the country and is applied regardless of the court in which proceedings are commenced. It includes, but is not limited by, the rules and principles of English admiralty law as it was exercised in 1934. More specifically, it includes the laws relating to: carriage of goods by sea (Tropwood A.G. v Sivaco Wire & Nail CoAntares Shipping Corp. v The “Capricorn(Wire Rope Industries v B.C. Marine Shipbuilders LtdTriglav v Terrasses Jewellers LtdI.T.O. v Miida Electronics Ltd.). Canadian maritime law includes the common law principles of contract, tort, bailment and agency (Q.N.S. Paper Co. v Chartwell Shipping Ltd.) and tort liability (Whitbread v. Walley).

Finally, the third element in the above test, that the law must be a "law of Canada" within the meaning of s. 101 of the Constitution Act, requires that the nourishing law must be within federal legislative competence under s. 91(10) of the Constitution Act. This element of the test requires a constitutional analysis involving the division of powers under the Constitution Act between the federal and provincial governments. Again, the more recent cases considering these issues are summarized on this site but some are digested under the topic Constitutional Issues.

The three part test in ITO Terminal Operators Ltd. v Miida Electronics Inc. is somewhat easier to apply when one is addressing a matter that falls within one of the enumerated categories in ss. 22(2) of the Federal Courts Act. It has been held that claims within ss. 22(2) are necessarily nourished by Canadian maritime law and within the jurisdiction of the Federal Court. (Harry Sargeant III v. Al-Saleh, 2014 FCA 302, paras. 89-93; Siemens Canada Ltd. v. J. D. Irving Ltd.2012 FCA 225 (CanLII),  para. 35 Skaarup Shipping Corporation v. Hawker Industries Limited [1980] 2 F.C. 746)

The Federal Court’s Exclusive Admiralty Jurisdiction

It is to be noted that the Federal Court’s admiralty jurisdiction under section 22 is not exclusive but is concurrent. This means that, unless a specific statute provides otherwise, the provincial superior courts also have jurisdiction to hear and determine admiralty cases. Two statutes that provide otherwise are the Marine Liability Act and the Canada Shipping Act 2001. These statutes give the Federal Court exclusive jurisdiction in relation to the following matters, among others:

Statute Section Claim/Matter
Marine Liability Act 32 The constitution and distribution of a limitation fund established under the LLMC Convention.
Marine Liability Act 52 The constitution and distribution of a limitation fund established under the CLC Convention.
Marine Liability Act 74.25 The constitution and distribution of a limitation fund established under the HNS Convention 2010, once it enters into force.
Marine Liability Act 106 Appeals from decisions by the Administrator of the Ship Source Oil Pollution Fund.
Canada Shipping Act, 2001 86(3) Claims for lien in respect of seamen’s wages. (Note that such claims can be made in any court with an in rem procedure but only the Federal Court and the British Columbia Supreme Court have such procedures.)

Additional Information

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