Canada: Quebec's Act Respecting Occupational Health And Safety : A Federal Undertaking Is Not Subject To The Obligations Of A Principal Contractor

On March 16, 2015, the Commission des lésions professionnelles (the CLP) declared that Quebec's Act Respecting Occupational Health and Safety (OHSA) is inapplicable to a federal undertaking, the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (the Corporation), and annulled all the decisions issued by inspectors from the Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (the CSST) affecting the Corporation.

This decision Corporation de Gestion de la Voie maritime du Saint-Laurent et Construction Injection EDM inc. resolves the debate on the inapplicability of the obligations regarding health and safety on a construction site incumbent upon a principal contractor, in accordance with Chapter XI (art. 194-222) of the OHSA.

In this case, the Corporation was challenging numerous intervention reports issued by CSST inspectors that identified the Corporation as principal contractor of the construction work performed by contractors at the locks of St. Lambert, Ste. Catherine and Beauharnois.

The CLP appraised the evidence and found, that in accordance with the criteria set by case law and the OHSA, the Corporation is the "principal contractor" of all the construction sites at issue, except for one construction site which was distinct from the other sites because the contractor was responsible for all the work performed in connection with the reconditioning of the Beauharnois locks' machinery.

The CLP thus pursued its analysis by considering whether Chapters X (inspection) and XI (special provisions respecting construction sites) of the OHSA were applicable to the Corporation.

Counsel for the Corporation argued that these Chapters do not apply, on constitutional grounds, to a federal undertaking by virtue of the doctrine of interjurisdictional immunity, and subsidiarily, to an agent of the Federal Crown by virtue of the statutory immunity privilege of the Crown. Regarding its main argument, the Corporation relied on the trilogy of cases rendered by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1988, namely the cases Bell Canada v. Québec (CSST), (Bell Canada), Canadian National Railway Co. v. Courtois, (Courtois), and Alltrans Express Ltd. v. British Columbia (Workers' Compensation Board), (Alltrans).

Counsel for the CSST and Quebec's General Attorney (QGA) submitted that the effects of the 1988 trilogy cited above ought to be distinguished with respect to the application of the doctrine of interjurisdictional immunity given that the Bell Canada, Courtois and Alltrans cases did not deal specifically with the provisions applicable to the principal contractor of a construction site. The QGA further argued that the Corporation was not an agent of the Crown.

The CLP sided with the Corporation. The CLP first concluded that the mission conferred on the Corporation by the Federal Government with respect to the operational control of the Canadian portion of the St. Lawrence Seaway constituted the sole raison d'être of the Corporation and that was sufficient to conclude that it was a federal undertaking – such qualification was not challenged by the parties.

Regarding the provisions of Chapter X (art. 177-193) of the OHSA, the CLP considered that it was unnecessary to rule again on the application of these provisions to a federal undertaking given that the Supreme Court of Canada established in the Courtois case that articles 62 and 177 to 193 of the OHSA were inapplicable to an undertaking engaged in interprovincial railway transportation, an industry with similarities with interprovincial marine transportation.

Contrary to the Bell Canada and Courtois cases, the CLP noted that none of the decisions challenged by the Corporation involved its own employees and that they rather targeted the Corporation in its capacity as a principal contractor, and not as an employer. In order to verify the validity of Chapter XI (art. 194-222) of the OHSA in respect of division of powers, the CLP began by assessing the pith and substance doctrine and the double aspect doctrine. In application of the Bell Canada case, the CLP concluded that the OHSA was valid and that it did not bear on two aspects.

The CLP thereafter examined the application of the doctrine of interjurisdictional immunity, by taking into account the teachings of the Supreme Court of Canada enunciated in Canadian Western Bank v. Alberta. In the case at hand, the CLP considered that given the existence of prior decisions dealing with the same subject matter (Bell Canada, Courtois and Alltrans), the doctrine of interjurisdictional immunity may apply.

Furthermore, the CLP decided that the doctrine shall apply given that the enforcement of provisions of Chapter XI to the Corporation would result in an impairment on working conditions, labour relations and management of the undertaking.

In fact, according to the CLP, although it is true that the relationship between a construction worker and a principal contractor is not merely as concrete as the relationship of a worker and his employer, this relationship is far from being inexistent since article 195 applies to all construction workers and article 196 imposes on the principal contractor the duty to observe all obligations imposed on employers, including the obligation to take all necessary measures to protect health and safety of construction workers. The CLP noted that in similar fashion to industry workers, the rights conferred to construction workers form part of their working conditions and the principal contractor is not estranged to the exercise of these rights. Also, considering that the principal contractor shall assume all of the obligations provided by the OHSA, it can be concluded that the OHSA entails, for the principal contractor, consequences on working conditions, labour relations and management of the undertaking.

On the notion of impairment, the CLP stressed that the enforcement of OHSA on the Corporation, as a principal contractor of a construction site, may impair the management or operations of the undertaking. For example, an order issued by a CSST inspector or the exercise by a construction worker of a right of refusal may result in a work stoppage.

Finally, the CLP asserted that in the event that this decision would open the door to a legal vacuum, it would be up to the legislator to fill the gap or, alternatively, to the site owner to apply administrative standards which would remedy this situation.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.