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Canada Post vs. Hamilton: A look at round one in court fight over mail

The landmark court case between the city of Hamilton and Canada Post began Tuesday afternoon. It's being watched around the country for its implications on other municipalities unhappy about the Crown corporation's planned changes to mail delivery.

Judge: This is not a political exercise

Supporting the city of Hamilton's lawsuit against Canada Post, unionized postal workers and other unions in solidarity waved signs in front of the John Sopinka Courthouse on Tuesday. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

A couple of dozen people showed up from Hamilton and elsewhere, waving flags and "Save door-to-door" signs outside the John Sopinka Courthouse in downtown Hamilton Tuesday.

They were there to lend their support to the city's fight against Canada Post's plans to install community mailboxes and phase out door-to-door mail delivery. It's a case being watched around the country for its implications on other municipalities unhappy about the Crown corporation's planned changes to mail delivery.

This is not a political exercise.- Justice Alan Whitten

But upstairs, the afternoon court hearing — which will resume Wednesday at 9 a.m. — opened with a warning from from the judge:

"This is not a political exercise," said Justice Alan Whitten.

"This is not an exercise [for the city] to impose their political will about whether there is door-to-door delivery."

He said the case is focused on a much narrower slice of jurisdiction: Who has the right to control where mailboxes for carrying out federally mandated postal delivery should go?

Outside, on the courthouse steps, the rally was for national public service standards. 

"This is a major decision that would affect public services, large segments of the community, the whole country," said David Rennie, a postal clerk and member of CUPW 548 who lives in Stoney Creek, and was holding one of the biggest banners. "There's no excuse for these Draconian changes," he said. 

'Being forced to cede control'

Tuesday's hearing began with arguments from Canada Post's lawyer, John Laskin from the firm Torys LLP. His main point was that a city bylaw passed in April imposes municipal control of a federal government concern, which he contends is against the law.

"It really comes down to a question of control," Laskin said. "There is a difference between collaborating and consulting and being forced to cede control."

The city's lawyer, Justyna Hidalgo has said the city looking for a chance to have "meaningful input," 

One of Canada Post's super mailboxes, in St. John's. (CBC )
But in Canada Post's arguments, Laskin said the federal corporation tried to consult with the city of Hamilton last fall but the city had already filed a formal opposition to the end of door-to-door delivery. City staff were directed to stop meeting with Canada Post, Laskin said. 

If the city's objective was "meaningful input," it had that chance, he said. "But it chose for its own reasons not to engage."

The city bylaw, passed last month, charges Canada Post $200 for every mailbox it installs, gives staff a say in where to put them and requires a four-month moratorium after it pays for the first 500. The city has filed a restraining order to stop Canada Post from installing the mailboxes without permits.

Canada Post argues the judge should strike the whole thing down.

'A great desire to get on with it'

Henry Evans-Tenbrinke, right, and his friend sit at a community mailbox pad to protest Canada Post's plan to build a super mailbox. (Jeff Green/CBC)
A significant part of Tuesday's hearing outlined the impacts the city's bylaw would have on the agency.

The postal service would lose time and money, carry uncertainty over the whims of city preferences and not have control over its federal mandate to deliver the mail, Laskin said. The savings from the conversion to super mailboxes "in Hamilton alone" are in the tens of millions of dollars annually, he said.

If the city's terms are allowed to stand, the lost time and moratorium would push the conversion effort into 2016, Laskin said. 

"There's a great desire on the part of Canada Post, I must say, to get on with it," he said.

Laskin will continue with Canada Post's arguments at 9 a.m. Wednesday and then the city will respond. Justice Whitten said he doesn't expect to file a decision Wednesday but will aim to do so "within the month."

CBC Hamilton will continue to follow the case. Follow @kellyrbennett for updates.

With files from Samantha Craggs

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