NHL Lockout Over – What About All the Legal Proceedings?

The lockout is over and the players are back at practice. Time to skate on? Yes, but I think we ought to look at the “game tape” to review the effectiveness of some of the legal wrangling that took place in Canada. After all, we’ll likely be back in the same place in 10 years. As discussed in a previous post, the NHLPA filed proceedings before the labour boards of Quebec and Alberta against the NHL, seeking to have the lockout declared illegal. What happened to those proceedings? Not much…

The interim relief sought in both cases was rejected and the boards’ decided a hearing on the merits was required but delayed their start, likely in the hope that the parties would resolve their issues without resort to tribunals – which they did. Those cases will now likely die on the vine.

While those cases made headlines, in my view, they never had any chance of success and strike me as a waste of player, league and taxpayer money (the tribunals are funded out of the public purse). There is no question that nature of the work carried in the NHL would be governed by provincial law and provincial labour tribunals (which is why the NHLPA filed provincially). Those tribunals have jurisdiction that, constitutionally, cannot extend into other provinces.

Conversely, the NHLPA is ostensibly a bargaining unit that stretches the continent, covering multiple provincial jurisdictions and another country! Provincial labour tribunals do not have the authority or ability to order the NHL to play. They could never order the implementation of a schedule and force the Boston Bruins to fly to Toronto to play the Maple Leafs. So while these cases were interesting, there was never could never be any effective response from our courts. Forcing owners to unlock the gym and practice rink (one possible remedy) wouldn’t end the lockout. Is there some kind of effective remedy that a provincial tribunal could order? Did the NHLPA waste taxpayer money by filing a frivolous claim?

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