Canada: La Cour Suprême Du Canada Se Prononce Sur L'immunité Des Organisations Internationales Et La Gestion De Leurs Employés

Le 29 novembre 2013, la Cour suprême du Canada a rendu sa décision dans l'affaire Amaratunga c . Organisation des pêches de l'Atlantique Nord-Ouest sur la question de l'application de l'immunité d'une organisation internationale à la gestion des employés de cette organisation. La Cour suprême a conclu que les organisations internationales jouissaient d'une immunité en cas de recours pour congédiement injustifié institué par un cadre supérieur.

L'appelant, Tissa Amaratunga, occupait un poste de cadre supérieur au sein de l'Organisation des pêches de l'Atlantique Nord-Ouest (l' OPANO) de 1988 à 2005 lorsqu'il fut congédié. L'appelant a institué un recours pour congédiement injustifié contre l'OPANO. En défense, l'OPANO revendiquait l'immunité, en tant qu'organisation internationale, en application du Décret sur les privilèges et immunités de l'Organisation des pêches de l'Atlantique Nord-Ouest (le  Décret sur l'immunité de l'OPANO ) convenu avec le Canada et pris par le gouverneur en conseil en vertu de la Loi sur les missions étrangères et les organisations internationales. Ce décret confère à l'OPANO les immunités prévues par la Convention sur les privilèges et immunités des Nations Unies « dans la mesure où ses fonctions l'exigent ».

En première instance, la Cour suprême de la Nouvelle-Écosse a rejeté la défense d'immunité de l'OPANO et a conclu que la poursuite pour congédiement injustifié de l'appelant peut être entendue, y compris son recours visant l'obtention d'une indemnité distincte en vertu du règlement régissant le personnel de l'OPANO. La Cour a décidé que l'OPANO n'avait pas démontré que l'immunité opposée au recours de l'appelant était « nécessaire ou essentielle » à l'exercice de ses fonctions.

L'OPANO a porté cette décision en appel devant la Cour d'appel de la Nouvelle-Écosse, qui a accueilli l'appel. La Cour a conclu que l'immunité conférée par le Décret sur l'immunité de l'OPANO protège celle-ci de la poursuite de l'appelant. Plus particulièrement, elle a conclu que « la nature même des actions en congédiement injustifié implique des examens très importants et en profondeur de la relation employeur-employé » et que d'accéder à la demande de l'appelant, dans les circonstances, supposerait « inévitablement un examen à la loupe des activités essentielles » de l'OPANO et constituerait une « ingérence dans l'autonomie » de celle-ci.

La Cour suprême du Canada a entendu la cause le 28 mars 2013. Elle devait alors se prononcer sur deux (2) questions. La question principale consistait à savoir si l'immunité de la juridiction que confère le Décret sur l'immunité de l'OPANO à l'OPANO s'appliquait dans les circonstances. Plus particulièrement, la Cour devait analyser l'interprétation à donner aux termes « dans la mesure où ses fonctions l'exigent ». Si la Cour suprême concluait que l'OPANO jouissait de l'immunité relativement aux réclamations de l'appelant, elle devrait alors se pencher sur une deuxième question, à savoir si l'immunité s'appliquait également à la réclamation de l'appelant portant spécifiquement sur l'indemnité de cessation d'emploi qui lui est payable en application du règlement régissant le personnel de l'OPANO.

La Cour suprême a accueilli l'appel en partie et a conclu que, dans les circonstances, les fonctions de l'OPANO exigeaient l'application de l'immunité pour qu'elle soit « en mesure de gérer ses employés, notamment ceux qui occupent des postes supérieurs, afin d'accomplir efficacement ses fonctions ». La Cour a déclaré ce qui suit :

 Permettre que des poursuites liées à l'emploi intentées contre l'OPANO par ses cadres supérieurs soient entendues par les tribunaux canadiens porterait atteinte de façon injustifiée à l'autonomie de l'OPANO dans l'exercice de ses fonctions et reviendrait à assujettir ses opérations de gestion à la surveillance des institutions de l'état hôte. 

Toutefois, en ce qui a trait à la réclamation visant l'obtention d'une indemnité de cessation d'emploi en vertu des règles régissant le personnel de l'OPANO, la Cour suprême a conclu que cette réclamation ne portait nullement atteinte à l'exercice des fonctions de l'OPANO puisqu'elle se rapportait uniquement à la règle prévue par le règlement régissant le personnel de l'OPANO, qui prévoit qu'une indemnité de cessation d'emploi doit être versée à tout employé quittant son emploi, peu importe le motif du départ. La Cour a conclu que l'application de cette règle ne « reviendrait pas à assujettir les opérations de gestion de l'OPANO à la surveillance des tribunaux canadiens ».

Dans ce contexte, la Cour suprême en est venue à la conclusion que même si l'immunité de l'OPANO s'appliquait aux réclamations de l'appelant, la réclamation concernant l'indemnité de cessation d'emploi prévue par le règlement sur le personnel de l'OPANO devait être traitée de façon distincte. L'affaire a donc été renvoyée à la Cour suprême de la Nouvelle-Écosse pour que celle-ci statue sur cette réclamation.

En conclusion, les organisations internationales jouissant de la même immunité que l'OPANO, ne devraient pas s'attendre à ce que cette immunité s'applique à leurs règles internes régissant les droits des employés en cas de cessation d'emploi. Par contre, ces organisations peuvent s'attendre à ce que d'éventuels recours pour congédiement injustifié soient visés par l'immunité qui leur est accordée en vertu d'un décret pris en application de la Loi sur les missions étrangères et les organisations internationales. Finalement, bien que cette décision traite spécifiquement d'un recours pour congédiement injustifié, les principes adoptés par la Cour suprême et l'immunité conférée en vertu de la loi susmentionnée ne se limitent pas aux réclamations portant sur une relation de travail. La Cour suprême a confirmé qu'il y a lieu d'examiner le libellé du décret accordant l'immunité afin d'établir si une réclamation pouvait être déposée. Compte tenu du raisonnement de la Cour suprême dans cette décision, il y a lieu de croire que l'immunité sera accordée lorsqu'elle concerne diverses questions juridiques qui sont essentielles à l'exercice des fonctions de l'organisation visée.

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