Canadian Manufacturing

Air Canada accused of flouting law in Aveos debacle

Quebec Justice Minister says airline is contravening the words and spirit of 1988 privatization law that bears its name

Montreal—Air Canada is “insulting” elected officials and democracy by not respecting its legal obligations to maintain its aircraft in Montreal, Quebec’s Justice Minister said Tuesday.

The Quebec government is seeking a court ruling on the airline’s obligations to heavy maintenance work that had been performed by Aveos Fleet Performance before it shut down and laid off all its employees.

Jean-Marc Fournier said Air Canada’s unwillingness to maintain Aveos’ operations runs against the spirit and letter of the law.

Aveos terminated about 2,600 jobs across the country, including some 1,800 in Montreal, when it suddenly obtained creditor protection and closed its operations last month.

Fournier said the province couldn’t sit idly by and is asking Quebec Superior Court for a declaratory judgment following an unsatisfactory response from the Montreal-based airline.

The province believes Air Canada was required, as a condition of its privatization in 1988, to maintain the vital heavy maintenance operations in Montreal, Winnipeg and Toronto.

“The law is clear and the passage of time doesn’t make them obsolete. Only a legislative amendment could have authorized the defendant to move its centres elsewhere than in the locations previewed in the law,” Fournier said.

Air Canada reiterated its contention that it has conformed with the Air Canada Public Participation Act despite the closure of Aveos because it continues to conduct regular and heavy maintenance work. That argument was sanctioned by an Ontario judge following a complaint by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Union spokesman Jean Poirier said the law was flouted and now it’s not just a small machinists union or law firm saying it.

The federal government received a legal opinion from the Justice Department saying it’s far from clear that the airline breached its legal obligations.

Part of the difficulty in proving such a case is the requirement that Air Canada maintain “overhaul” operations, wrote assistant deputy minister Pierre Legault in a six-page legal opinion. The term can be used to apply to both heavy maintenance work done by Aveos and line maintenance performed internally by the airline’s own 2,400 mechanical employees.

Even if the government was able to obtain an order against Air Canada, Aveos workers may not get their jobs back because the airline could still contract out the work, Legault said.

He added that any effort to amend the act requiring the airline to perform all maintenance and overall work in Canada would likely raise trade issues and could run afoul of NAFTA and a bilateral trade agreement with the U.S.

Quebec’s aerospace industry is the sixth largest in the world, employing more than 42,000 people and generating more than $11 billion in annual revenues.

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