The following scenario will be familiar to anybody who has appeared in front of labour boards or arbitrators. You are preparing for your case, when somebody tells you about a great decision that is right on point and will really help your case. It was decided by Arbitrator Teplitsky, about five years ago, involving Canada Post and a grievor named Phil. Three hours later, you discover that the case was actually decided by Arbitrator Kaplan, in 1997, involving Air Canada and a grievor named Wanda. And, of course, the case is not actually that helpful.
Really, you deserve congratulations for finding the case within three hours – and if you did, you do not need to read this blog post. For the rest of us, though, who could not find the case (or gave up after three hours), this post is meant as a handy guide to searching for labour cases.
General legal search engines
There are three main search engines for labour cases: CanLII, Westlaw, and Quicklaw. The first is free, the other two are fee-paying commercial services.
CanLII (the Canadian Legal Information Institute) is a non-profit organization engaged by the law societies of Canada to provide a virtual library of Canadian legal information. CanLII divides itself into fourteen databases – one for each province, territory, and the federal sphere. Each geographical database contains a number of databases for each level of court in that jurisdiction. In addition, there are databases for a number of tribunals – including labour arbitration awards, labour board decisions, and human rights decisions.
The two main benefits to CanLII are that it is free and it is easy to search. The search engine acts and feels like Google Boolean searching. The downside to CanLII is that it is incomplete. Most databases only go back to the early 2000s, and the labour arbitration databases are a little thin going back more than a few years. CanLII is adding a greater number of labour arbitration decisions each year, but it is still incomplete.
Westlaw is a paid service that has a relatively comprehensive database of case law and other legal materials. It has a specific labour product called LabourSource. This product consists of the Labour Arbitration Cases (L.A.C.), the Canadian Labour Arbitration Summaries (C.L.A.S.), a collective agreement summary service, as well as court cases and labour board decisions. LabourSource also gives you online access to various labour law texts, including Brown & Beatty’s Canadian Labour Arbitration and George Adams’ Canadian Labour Law. This database – the C.L.A.S. in particular – is fairly comprehensive. One nice aspect is that if you email the case to yourself, you can have it sent as a PDF document that prints easily (and looks nice).
Quicklaw is another popular paid service. It has the best coverage of reported arbitration decisions, with a very comprehensive database going back to 1992, and then over 2700 significant decisions from 1949-1991. LabourPractice is the specific product on Quicklaw for Canadian labour law practitioners, and includes online access to labour texts such as Palmer & Snyder’s Collective Agreement Arbitration in Canada and Rayner’s Law of Collective Bargaining, as well as a number of other case law digests and current awareness newsletters.
Some specific search engines
The Government of Ontario has recently made all collective agreements in Ontario available through the Ministry of Labour’s Collective Agreements e-Library Portal. The collective agreements are searchable by sector, or by using a straightforward Boolean search. The Ontario Ministry of Labour will also provide copies of unreported arbitration decisions, upon request.
The Federal Government publishes all Treasury Board collective agreements online. The Negotech website also contains a repository of collective agreements from across Canada; however, there is no legal requirement for a provincial union or employer to file a collective agreement with the federal government, so there are no guarantees the database is complete. It is, however, surprisingly robust.
There are also some sector-specific arbitration decision repositories. For example, the Canadian Railway Arbitration Awards contains a searchable database of more than 5600 arbitration awards from 1965 to the present. The Ontario Police Arbitration Commission also has its own searchable database of rights arbitration, interest arbitration, and other decisions.
As with all online research, there are often multiple ways to find the same decision. If you only have scant details about a case, we recommend starting broadly with CanLII. Note, also, that you may be able to access some of the paid databases (such as Westlaw) for free at your local courthouse library or at a university library.