Doth ‘Proclaim’ Too Much: Collective Agreement Gives the Word Special Meaning
February 28 - 3 min read
A statement from the Prime Minister was not enough to "proclaim" the National Day of Mourning for Queen Elizabeth II's passing a holiday under a collective agreement in Ontario. The word "proclaim" used in the holidays provisions in the agreements took on a specific meaning that did not cover this National Day of Mourning.
Queen Elizabeth II passed away on September 8, 2022. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared September 19, 2022, a National Day of Mourning to recognize her passing. Vaughn Public Library Board ("Library") did not recognize the National Day of Mourning as a paid holiday under the Collective Agreement. The Canadian Union of Public Employees and two locals representing employees of the Library ("Union") filed a grievance.
The Library's collective agreements had an identical provision, Article 15.01, which set out the specific days designated as paid holidays. The provision included the phrase "and any other day proclaimed by the federal, provincial or municipal governments."
The Library argued that this was a contract interpretation case and that every word in the collective agreement must be given meaning. It also cited three cases dealing with the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in which the Arbitrator found the word "proclaimed" to mean a link to the end of the legislative process when legislation is declared to come into force. The Library further argued that the National Day of Mourning had not been officially listed as a holiday under the Canada Labour Code, the federal Holidays Act, or Ontario's employment standards legislation.
The Union argued that:
- The Prime Minister proclaimed a holiday in the news conference.
- The Minister of Labour stated that federally regulated employers could recognize the holiday.
- The directive from the Government of Canada stated it was a one-time holiday to be administered under collective agreements.
- The title of Article 15 is "Holidays," not "Statutory Holidays," and the only condition required to make a day a holiday was that it was proclaimed a holiday by one level of government.
What the Arbitrator Said
Arbitrator Beatty found that the National Day of Mourning was not a paid holiday under the parties' collective agreements.
The Arbitrator agreed with the Library's argument that the word "proclaimed" includes a link or connection to a legislative process. Article 15.01 is the only provision in the collective agreement where "proclaimed" is used; therefore, the parties' must have intended to give it a specific meaning. Further, it is required that a holiday be "proclaimed" by a level of government, further lending credence to the Library's interpretation. The Arbitrator found the Union's argument reduced the meaning of the word to "stating," "indicating," or "notifying," all of which are used elsewhere in the collective agreement. Therefore, "proclaim" clearly had its own meaning.
While Arbitrator Beatty agreed with the Union's argument that Article 15.01 referred only to Holidays and not "Statutory Holidays," the Arbitrator stated that because he found the word "proclaimed" had its own meaning, there was no reason to read extra words into Article 15.01.
While this case comes from Ontario, the result would likely be the same in Alberta and the Northwest Territories. Words specifically chosen to appear in only one provision or used in multiple provisions in the same way will be construed to have a specific meaning. While each case turns on the specific facts and collective agreement in issue, this decision indicates that when the word "proclaimed" by a level of government is used exclusively in a provision dealing with holidays, it likely means the holiday must be granted by legislation to be recognized as a holiday for purposes of the collective agreement.
If you are seeking advice on how a clause in your collective agreement may be interpreted or with any other labour relations or employment issue, please contact Zachary Bliss in Edmonton, Frank Molnar, KC in Calgary or any member of Field Law's Labour + Employment Group for guidance and assistance in this area.