What began as a case of one man trying to keep his title of conservation officer with the British Columbia Ministry of Environment (the “Ministry”) has evolved into a case attracting national attention that may affect people employed in labour roles across the country.

Bryce Casavant was hired as a conservation officer for the Ministry in 2013. He was appointed under the provincial Environmental Management Act, however, as part of his new function, he was also appointed as a Special Provincial Constable under the Police Act. In his role, he was represented by the BC Government and Service Employees Union (the “Union”) and his employment was subject to a collective agreement.

Special Constable Partially Follows Supervisor’s Order

In 2015, Mr. Casavant responded to a complaint from a citizen that a bear had been eating from an outdoor freezer located in a trailer home community. Upon investigating the complaint, the officer found that a female bear and her two cubs were present in the community. However, only the mother had been eating from the freezer; not the cubs. When the officer reported his findings to a supervising officer, he was ordered to euthanize all three bears, as they had become accustomed to human food and therefore posed a threat.

Casavant complied with the order with respect to the adult bear but chose to take the two cubs to a local veterinarian for assessment instead. He viewed the ‘kill order’ for the cubs as being inconsistent with Ministry policy, which he believed required officers to determine for themselves if an order to fire a discharge was lawful and to refuse the order if it wasn’t. After they were examined by the veterinarian, the cubs were transported to a rehabilitation facility. They were later successfully released into the wild.

The supervising officer filed a complaint against Casavant for failing to follow an order, and Casavant was subsequently suspended pending the investigation. Six weeks later, the Ministry informed Casavant he was not suited for the role of conservation officer and was being transferred to a new role with the same pay, but without the designation of Special Constable. The loss of status of officer is defined by the Ministry as tantamount to a termination.

Disciplinary Outcome

The Union filed a grievance on Casavant’s behalf, which was ultimately settled between the parties. However, after the settlement agreement, Casavant discovered two reports the Ministry had prepared in advance of his termination and sought to set aside the settlement agreement, against the advice of the Union. The arbitrator denied the request, and Casavant appealed to the Labour Relations Board (the “Board”) seeking a review of the matter. After that request was denied, Casavant asked the Board to reconsider the review decision and was again denied.

Employee Challenges Jurisdiction of LRB Under Legislation

From there, Casavant sought judicial review of the decision. In this application, Casavant raised a challenge for the first time to the Board’s jurisdiction over the matter. Casavant claimed that his role of Special Constable, which he was appointed to under the Police Act, was subject to disciplinary process as mandated under that Act, rather than the Labour Relations Code or the collective agreement. The judge held that the Board was not unreasonable in denying reconsideration, and dismissed the judicial review application without addressing the jurisdictional question, as it had not been raised in the matter the court was being asked to review.

Appeals Court Provides Employee With Long-Sought Relief

Casavant argued that the conduct for which he had been disciplined (failing to follow an order to discharge his firearm) was specific to his role as a Special Constable. As a result, the disciplinary procedure should have occurred as set out under the Police Act, and not the collective agreement or the Labour Relations Code. The Court of Appeal agreed with that assessment:

Mr. Casavant agrees that some aspects of the employment of Special Provincial Constables are governed by the Collective Agreement, such as hours of work, wages, and general expectations. However, he submits that all of the conduct put in issue by the Ministry related to the performance of constabulary duties. I agree with that assessment.

The Court held that it would not serve a purpose to remit the matter back to the Board for a decision, as the outcome would be inevitable. Instead, the Court nullified the proceedings before the arbitrator and the Board, leaving it to the parties to determine how the matter would be resolved from there. The Court further declared that the disciplinary process should have been carried out in accordance with the Police Act.

In deciding the matter, the Court noted that the case was complicated, with certain aspects of Casavant’s role being governed by one piece of legislation and other aspects by another. There are many labour and federally-regulated employees across the county in a similar position, so the outcome of the case could have a much greater impact. Further complicating matters, the Union has applied for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, stating that the Court of Appeal’s decision has upended “years of labour relations between the employer (the province) and union”.

We will continue to follow this case as it progresses and provide updates when available.

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