Canada Post’s Charter challenge

Canada Post’s Charter challenge
As Canada Post Corp. proceeds with its five-year plan to phase out door-to-door mail delivery in favour of community mailboxes, it is facing a Charter challenge from its major union, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, joined by several seniors organizations.

The plaintiffs claim that only the federal government, not CPC, has the authority to make this decision, and they argue the decision discriminates against the elderly and the mobility-challenged. No court hearing has yet been held.

Bonnie Boretsky, 58, is no casual observer of the proceedings. A 30-year veteran of Canada Post, she has been vice president, general counsel, corporate secretary & compliance since 2008.
“I’m definitely involved from a strategy point of view,” she says of the CUPW case. She, her assistant general counsel and another senior lawyer “are paying very close attention.” She has also hired two external law firms specifically to address the human rights arguments.

The legal department has also been fighting a bylaw passed by the City of Hamilton to block the phase-out of home delivery locally. The case was being heard by the Superior Court of Jutstice at press time.

CPC consulted its legal department on the original decision to phase out home delivery. “I’m at the senior management table, and it’s something I for sure got involved in,” she says. “But there wasn’t a lot of hard thinking to do.”  

CPC has been installing community mailboxes in the country since the late 80s. The former City of Nepean early on fought the move in court, but lost. “The legal department was therefore very supportive of the initiative,” says Boretsky. “We weren’t surprised when CUPW took us to court. We were ready for all possible challenges on all different fronts.”

Boretsky’s lengthy career at Canada Post has inured her to legal battles. In fact, her tenure has largely overlapped with CPC’s longest litigation. In 1983, the Public Service Alliance of Canada filed a pay equity complaint on behalf of 2,300 mostly female clerical workers at CPC.

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal upheld the pay equity complaint, but CPC appealed. Eventually, the Supreme Court of Canada issued a rare oral decision in 2011, ordering CPC to pay additional wages to close the gap for the years 1982 to 2002, plus interest. Two more years of wrangling over the amount of the interest followed, before cheques started to be sent out.

Boretsky was aware of, but not close to, the pay equity case until she became general counsel. “Then leave to appeal to the Supreme Court was granted, and we all got a little nervous,” she says.
“We won twice — in Federal Court and Federal Court of Appeal — so obviously some justices thought that what Canada Post did was right.”

What shocked her most about the outcome was that the Supreme Court justices deliberated only 20 minutes before rendering their decision from the bench.

She was attending a board meeting of CPC subsidiary Purolator Inc. at the time. “My BlackBerry was ringing off the hook. I didn’t look at it. What could be so urgent? We knew that the [SCC] hearing was going on, but we didn’t expect to have a decision right away.”

Another key episode involving Boretsky was the four-year collective bargaining pact that Canada Post reached in October 2012 with CUPW, representing 48,000 workers. The agreement came nearly two years after contract talks first began, and had run into rotating strikes, a lockout, back-to-work legislation, and the disqualification of two federally appointed arbitrators.
Ultimately, the two sides returned to the bargaining table without an arbitrator and cut a deal. “We put in a lower offer than we had made before, basically to position ourselves for an arbitration,” Boretsky says. “Somehow that brought the union back to the table. Why? Maybe they thought they’d do better with us than with an arbitrator appointed by a Conservative government.”

Boretsky who was born in Montreal, embraced a legal career at a young age. “It’s a pretty goofy story,” she says. “In elementary school, we had to stand up in front of the class and say what we wanted to be. To be different, I said I wanted to be a lawyer. Nobody in my family was a lawyer. But that was it. My path was dictated, and I never really veered from it.”

When she finished her law degree at University of Ottawa, she “had her heart set on practising labour law.” She worked for two years in Montreal for a small law firm as a junior labour lawyer acting for unions. When another lawyer who had been off having a baby returned, the firm had one junior lawyer too many, and Boretsky found herself seeking a new position during a recession.

She moved to Ottawa to resume her LL.M studies, but found a job with the Canadian Union of Public Employees as a grievance officer. But she kept doing the rounds of law departments, eventually meeting with the general counsel of Canada Post.  

CPC gave her two six-month contracts then hired her full-time. “One of the reasons I was hired was because I was a bilingual lawyer,” she says, “and would be able to argue cases in Quebec. I did that for a couple of years.”

Canada Post, which had recently been transformed from a government department to a Crown corporation, had about a dozen lawyers when Boretsky joined; it now has 27, in addition to her, evenly divided between labour and commercial practitioners.

When she first joined CPC, all the lawyers were based at the head office in Ottawa; soon afterward, they posted lawyers in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver.

As for her 30-year tenure, “I can’t say I came here with the intent to stay, but it was always sufficiently intriguing, enjoyable, and challenging here that I never really looked anywhere else.” She was, however, tempted at times to move within CPC, say, to head labour relations or even into operations. (She did a stint as chief of staff to Moya Greene after the latter was appointed CPC’s president and CEO in 2005.)

Boretsky’s most enjoyable experiences at CPC have been when she’s been assigned to multi-disciplinary teams, primarily in labour negotiations, but also on other big   “transformational projects” the corporation was doing.  

“You’re working with a team of 15 or 30 people, focused on one common goal, with no distractions. It’s very intense. You get to know not only the people, but their areas of expertise; you deepen your understanding of the company’s challenges and goals, and how you bring your expertise to bear to attain those goals.”

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