The union representing Canada's postal workers is hoping the courts will reverse Canada Post's decision to stop delivering mail door-to-door in urban centres.
With termination notices rolling out across the country, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, along with groups representing seniors and the disabled, are launching a Federal Court challenge.
"The reaction was immediate from every part of this country," said Denis Lemelin, the union's national president, at a press conference in Ottawa Thursday.
"Today we want to thank the people of this country, because people care about the postal service," he said.
"Postal service is here to stay," he said, vowing to maintain a "public post office" as well as home delivery.
Lemelin said the December 2013 decision, which was supported by the Harper government, was announced without prior consultation with the public or postal workers.
Court injunction possible
The challenge has been finalized and could be filed in Federal Court "within the week," constitutional lawyer Paul Cavalluzzo told the press conference. Other applicants are still deciding whether to join the case.
After the challenge has been filed, an injunction could stop service reductions until the court rules.
The case will argue:
- The elimination of mail delivery violates Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees equality rights for groups like disabled citizens.
- The decision violates the federal Human Rights Act because of its effects on employees and vulnerable citizens without prior consultation.
- Canada Post did not have the authority to declare it will no longer perform a public service that's defined as part of the statutory monopoly it enjoys. Only the Parliament of Canada can take this decision.
- Canada has contravened its international law obligations, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which requires all states to provide accessible public services, and the Universal Postal Union obligations, which require all states to provide affordable and accessible service.
"I don't think taking away home delivery has anything to do with universality or accessibility," Cavalluzzo said.
"If you look at their accommodation program [for vulnerable groups], it's really a program that Canada Post is making on the fly," he said. "It's totally inadequate and doesn't make any of the requisites of our human rights law."
The lawyer also noted that a massive review of Canada Post operations done for the Harper government in 2008 made no mention of ending delivery.
"Did you have any studies of the impact of the decision on seniors and disabled before you took the decision?" he said he wants to ask Canada Post. "Our view is that this came out of the blue."
Businesses still served
Cavalluzzo pointed out that businesses will continue to receive mail delivery, making them entitled to a fundamental service that individual Canadians no longer have.
"At the present time the government is hiding behind the decision of Canada Post Corporation. They shouldn't be let off so easily," he said.
The National Pensioners Federation, which says it represents 350 seniors groups and over a million Canadians, has joined the challenge because it wants to reverse what it says is a trend of erosion of services. Mail delivery, it says, is important to help seniors stay in their homes for as long as possible.
Carmela Hutchison from the Disabled Women's Network of Canada told the press conference that community mail boxes can put personal safety at risk when vulnerable women get their mail in public, while increasing the risk of theft if they ask someone else to get their mail on their behalf.
Mail carriers can sometimes spot people in distress, she said. She's skeptical about Canada Post's pledges to accommodate the women she represents.
"Do we put a big handicapped sign on the door? Who approves it? The Canadian Medical Association wisely indicated it would not," she said, adding that paying for doctor's letters to prove special services are required can be an economic barrier.
If things proceed, Canada will be the only G8 country without home mail delivery, the union says.
The union also says 110 municipalities oppose ending home mail delivery and do not want the burden of maintaining community mailboxes along streets and sidewalks.
The labour movement and the NDP have been canvassing door-to-door with petitions to maintain the service.
Canada Post 'confident'
In a statement, Canada Post said it is "confident" that its plan "will withstand any and all legal scrutiny."
"Digital alternatives are rapidly replacing traditional mail and that trend will accelerate," the statement said. Two-thirds of Canadian households already do not receive mail delivery at their door, and the decision to discontinue the remainder was "difficult."
Canada Post's accommodations program is "robust" and it spent "months" talking to human rights experts and organizations, the Crown corporation said.
"The changes being made are necessary to secure the future of postal service in Canada and avoid becoming a burden on the taxpayers."