By: Elsa Ascencio, articling student.

Recently, the Supreme Court of Canada weighed in on how a trade union can be sued and determined that trade unions can properly be sued by way of representation order. A representation order is an order that can be obtained from a court whereby one or more persons are appointed to defend a legal action on behalf of the trade union.

The Supreme Court was addressing a situation whereby an employee of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 773, sued her union-employer alleging wrongful dismissal. The worker initially sued the union directly. Local 773 argued against the lawsuit on the basis that a trade union cannot be sued in Ontario under the Rights of Labour Act. The worker then amended the lawsuit to include individual persons within the union as proper representatives of the union.

In addressing the question of how a union may properly be sued, the Supreme Court of Canada is clear that suing via a representation order is proper. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court permitted the lawsuit as filed against the individuals standing in for the union.

This case affirms that while trade unions can’t be sued in their own name as per Ontario’s The Rights of Labour Act. It further affirms that obtaining a representation order is the appropriate means of suing a union. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court has signalled that courts are permitted some flexibility as to in accepting lawsuits against individuals sued as representative of a union.

Image: “Supreme Court of Canada” by detsang via Flickr under Creative Commons licence