Montreal

Former workers of Aveos win their battle against Air Canada

While the judge dismissed the claim for punitive damages, she ruled that Air Canada must compensate the workers for their loss of income and social benefits and pay individual claims for those who suffered moral damages, such as divorce.

Nearly 2,200 workers affected by outcome of suit

Protesters with signs
Aveos workers have won a legal victory against Air Canada, which shut down maintenance operations in Montreal, Winnipeg and Mississauga a decade ago. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Air Canada violated federal law by not keeping its maintenance centres in Montreal, Winnipeg and Mississauga operational during the collapse of Aveos a decade ago, the Quebec Superior Court ruled Thursday in favour of thousands of former workers.

"Air Canada did not take reasonably serious steps to comply with the law after the closure of Aveos," wrote Judge Marie-Christine Hivon, who concluded that there was a "continuous violation" of the law from March 2012 to June 2016.

Nearly 2,200 former workers are affected by the outcome of the class-action lawsuit. The vast majority of them were based in Montreal.

In a video message posted on his Facebook page shortly after the ruling, Jean Poirier, the Aveos union representative at the time of the company's closure, said he was "very, very moved."

"We won! We won against Air Canada. We won the whole thing. David won against Goliath. A 14-year battle, friends."

He asked Air Canada shareholders, who could appeal the ruling, to start "on a new foot" and settle the case.

In her 154-page decision, Judge Hivon ordered the airline to compensate workers for the loss of income and employment, as well as for the loss of social benefits.

Air Canada will also have to compensate the workers for "stress, questioning, decrease in self-esteem, insecurity, feelings of injustice and loss of enjoyment in life." It will also have to pay individual claims for those who suffered moral damages such as psychological problems, insomnia, family problems, divorce and suicide.

However, Judge Hivon found that the former Aveos employees had not demonstrated that the collapse of Aveos was caused by bad faith or wilful misconduct of Air Canada. She therefore dismissed the claim of $110 million in punitive damages.

In a written statement, Air Canada said it had "always acted in good faith in this case" and noted that the court concluded the company did not cause Aveos' collapse, rejecting the punitive damages.

As for the possibility of appealing the judgment, the carrier said it will consider it before deciding on the next steps.

Under the Air Canada Public Participation Act, the company had an obligation to maintain its Montreal, Winnipeg and Mississagua centres, a task it had contracted out to Aveos, which went bankrupt in March 2012. The federal government amended the law in June 2016 to ease this obligation.

The court was clear that the use of subcontracting did not release Air Canada of its legal obligations when the subcontractor ceased operations.

As well, the amendment to the law was not retroactive and did not have the effect of clarifying the meaning that the law had always had, contrary to the company's argument.

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