In what could prove to be an interesting case, the Supreme Court of Canada has granted leave to hear an appeal from the judgment of the Quebec Court of Appeal in Canadian Food Inspection Agency v. Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, Dany Beauregard et al. and Olymel et al.

The facts and background in this case are generally this: In December 2001, Olymel and others operated hog and poultry processing plants in Quebec, and Dany Beauregard and some other veterinarians were employees of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The veterinarian employees, represented by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (the “union”), were responsible for inspecting Olymel’s slaughterhouses.

On December 17, 2001, however, the veterinarians, who had been without a collective agreement for more than a year, did not report for work. And so, the Food Inspection Agency ordered Olymel to stop production.

Four days later, the Federal Court issued an interim interlocutory injunction ordering the union to stop using pressure tactics that interfered with the inspections required under the regulations in force. Later, in January of 2002, the Public Service Staff Relations Board of Canada concluded that the actions on December 17, 2001 constituted an illegal strike.

In February of 2002, the Food Inspection Agency decided that the meat from animals slaughtered during the labour dispute and destined for human consumption would have to be destroyed or treated as unfit to eat.

Accordingly, Olymel suffered losses, and in December of 2004, instituted an action in damages against the union and the veterinarians.

The union and the veterinarians then filed motions to institute proceedings in warranty against the Food Inspection Agency. They accused the Food Inspection Agency of having acted negligently in managing the situation resulting from the dispute that occurred on December 17, 2001. They also alleged there was no causal link between the work stoppage and the damage suffered by Olymel. That damage was rather the result of the Agency’s wrongful decisions to interrupt the slaughter, and then order the destruction of the slaughtered animals.

In the Quebec Superior Court, the Food Inspection Agency filed motions to dismiss the actions in warranty but failed.

The Trial Court held the actions in warranty (against the Inspection Agency by the union and veterinarians) appeared to be related to the principal action (commenced by Olymel against the union and veterinarians) and established a prima facie possibility of liability with the Agency. Furthermore, an otherwise valid decision of the Food Inspection Agency could be a civil fault and form the basis of an action in damages in Superior Court against a federal board, commission or other tribunal.

That judgment was upheld in the Quebec Court of Appeal where clearly the focus was on the provision in the civil code to the effect that all necessary parties be engaged in the process so that there may be a complete judicial determination.

This appeal may have a number of interesting facets, not the least of which is the claim by the union against the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

It may well be that the Supreme Court can decide this appeal without having to directly or indirectly address or to be seen to ponder two seemingly remote but broad and underlying matters: the safety of the nation’s food supply, and whether those responsible for illegal strike action must be held responsible for its serious ramifications.

While the law and policy considerations related to those core matters may not be in the forefront, they may influence the whys and wherefores of the more particular legal issues that will more likely be centre stage in the Supreme Court.