Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council v. Sayers, 2009 FC 930

Federal Court, September 17, 2009

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In a labour law context, the Federal Court granted the judicial review sought by the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council (“Council”) to quash a decision made by an Adjudicator appointed pursuant to the Canadian Labour Code (“Code”).

The facts leading to the litigation are as follows:

Respondent Eric Sayers contracted with the Council for two fixed short-term contracts related to services pertaining to the Community and Human Services Program (“CHSP”). After the receipt of a letter stating that his contracts would not be renewed, the Respondent filed a complaint of wrongful dismissal under section 240 (1) of the Code. Therefore, an Adjudicator was appointed to hear the matter.

The Council challenged the jurisdiction over the matter, based on two arguments: (a) the matter was governed by provincial laws, not the Code; (b) the employment contracts simply expired and therefore there is no labour relations matter for the Adjudicator to rule on.

The Court determined that the Council is a society registered in British Columbia and made up of fourteen (14) First Nations, whose mandate is to develop programs and services as well as administer federal government funding. Although constitutional law dictates that labour relations are within the jurisdictional powers of the provincial legislatures, Parliament has the power to regulate labour relations when they are an integral part of, or are necessarily incidental to, an area of federal jurisdiction (such as jurisdiction over the Indians, through subsection 91(24) of the Constitution Act of 1867). The question was whether or not the labour relations in this case are an integral part of a federal jurisdiction over Indians. In order to answer the question, the Court applied the functional test, which is constituted of two steps. Firstly, one must ask “do the facts suggest a core federal undertaking?” Secondly, one must determine whether the services in the case at bar can be categorized as part of the concept of “Indianness”. If so, they are within the “core federal undertaking”.

The Court found that because the Council assumes responsibilities and services for the benefit of Indians, it clearly is within the federal jurisdiction. It also noted that the CHSP services were addressed to First Nations’ members , were provided on the reserves and were funded in part by Federal Government. In light of these elements, the Court found that the matter was under federal jurisdiction and therefore, the Code applied to it. However, the Court found that the two contracts simply expired and therefore, the Adjudicator had no jurisdiction to decide the matter under the Code. Accordingly, its decision was quashed.

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