Robert Adamson, et al. v. Air Canada, et al.

(Federal) (Civil) (By Leave)




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Administrative law – Judicial review – Standard of review – Whether there is a pressing need for more consistency in the application of the reasonableness standard across the broad spectrum of decisions under judicial review in Canada – Whether the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal failed to abide by established legal principles governing the interpretation of quasi-constitutional human rights statutory provisions – Whether the Tribunal construed the Applicants’ rights narrowly and broadly construed the Respondents’ claimed defence – Whether the Tribunal misconstrued and failed to follow a binding direction of the Federal Court that was issued in a prior case involving the very same statutory provision with the same Respondents – Whether the interpretation of the statutory provision chosen by the Tribunal results in an outcome that is plainly absurd and that does not accord either with the intention of Parliament or with common sense – Canadian Human Rights Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. H-6, s. 15(1)(c).

The Applicants are all past members of the Air Canada Pilots Association (“ACPA”) and former employees of Air Canada who were forced to retire at age 60 due to the Mandatory Retirement Rule (“MRR”) in the collective agreement between Air Canada and the ACPA. They brought complaints against both organizations, alleging that the MRR constituted a discriminatory practice under the Canadian Human Rights Act (“CHRA”). The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found that the MRR constituted prima facie discrimination. It rejected the organizations’ bona fide occupational requirement (“BFOR”) defences under s. 15(1) (a) of the CHRA. However, it accepted Air Canada’s defence under s. 15(1) (c), concluding that age 60 was the normal age of retirement for pilots in Canada. The complaints were therefore dismissed. In the Federal Court, the Applicants successfully challenged the Tribunal’s finding on the normal age of retirement. That part of the Tribunal’s decision was set aside and the issue remitted to the Tribunal for re-determination in accordance with the reviewing judge’s reasons. Air Canada and the ACPA both took exception to the Tribunal’s conclusion that neither had proven a BFOR under s. 15(1) (a) of the CHRA. The reviewing judge dismissed Air Canada’s application but allowed the ACPA’s application. As a result, the issue was also remitted to the Tribunal with specific directions as to how to re-determine the validity of the ACPA’s BFOR defence. The parties each appealed the decision. The Federal Court of Appeal concluded that the reviewing judge erred in substituting his own opinion for that of the Tribunal on the normal age of retirement. The appeal of Air Canada and the ACPA are allowed on that issue. As a result of this conclusion the appeal court did not deal with the parties’ submissions regarding the BFOR defences. The Applicants’ appeal was dismissed and the appeals brought by Air Canada and ACPA were allowed.

Lower Court Rulings

January 27, 2014
Federal Court

2014 FC 83, T-971-12, T-1453-11, T-1428-11, T-979-12
Applicants’ application for judicial review allowed; Air Canada’s application for judicial review dismissed; Air Canada Pilots Association’s application for judicial review allowed
June 26, 2015
Federal Court of Appeal

2015 FCA 153, A-105-14, A-111-14, A-112-14
Applicants’ appeal dismissed; Air Canada and Air Canada Pilots Association appeals allowed; judgment of Federal Court is set aside and the Tribunal’s decision is restored