Understanding Your Right to a Truth and Reconciliation Day Off: Legal Insights and Grievance Arbitration Solutions

September 30 marks the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. While it is technically a holiday (albeit a solemn one) many workers are still left asking ‘do I get a Truth and Reconciliation day off?’

The answer depends on your location and employment contract; you may indeed be entitled to the holiday.

How the Laws Are Changing Around Truth and Reconciliation

“On June 3, 2021, the government of Canada passed Bill C-5, known as ‘An Act to amend the Bills of Exchange Act,’ ‘the Interpretation Act,’ and ‘the Canada Labour Code (National Day for Truth and Reconciliation).’ This legislation established a new holiday for federally regulated workersAn Act to amend the Bills of Exchange Act, the Interpretation Act and the Canada Labour Code (National Day for Truth and Reconciliation), creating a new holiday for federally regulated workers. 

The holiday was then adopted by British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon as a statutory holiday.

Other provinces, including Ontario, which have not adopted the day as a statutory holiday, have had individual unions include the newly formed holiday in their collective bargaining agreements or previously negotiated contracts that already had provisions to automatically adopt newly formed holidays as paid time off.

There were disputes, however, over whether Truth and Reconciliation Day would be included, leading to a legal remedy in Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 191.01 v. Kenora Arbitrator Sheehan.

Through grievance arbitration, it was decided that CUPE workers employed by the City of Kenora were entitled to a holiday on Truth and Reconciliation Day, primarily based on the language at issue.  The parties’ collective agreement read:

“Article 11.01 Paid Holidays

All employees in the Employer’s employ shall be paid for any proclaimed holidays and the following legal holidays:

New Year’s Day 
Family Day 
Good Friday 
Easter Sunday 

Victoria Day 
Canada Day
August Civic Holiday
Labour Day

Thanksgiving Day
Remembrance Day
Christmas Day
Boxing Day

The dispute rested on whether “any proclaimed holidays” included holidays instituted by the Federal Government but not Ontario. The court applied a test set out by Arbitrator Paula Knopf in C.E.P. Local 914 v. Clean Harbours Canada Inc., 2012 CanLII 7983 (ON LA), which requires the parties:

  1. Consider the entire context of the collective agreement
  2. Read the words of a collective agreement
    1. in their entire context
    2. in their grammatical and ordinary meaning
  3. Read the words of a collective agreement harmoniously
    1. with the scheme of the agreement
    2. with the object of the agreement and
    3. with the intention of the parties

Based on this interpretation, the arbitration “all” referred to holidays ordered by any applicable level of Government. 

Does Your Collective Bargaining Agreement Include Truth and Reconciliation Time Off?

If your union’s collective bargaining agreement provides for the automatic inclusion of newly adopted holidays (both at a federal and provincial level) then you and your union members are entitled to this time off. 

If you want a labour lawyer in Toronto to take a look at your collective bargaining agreement to better determine if you are entitled to a Truth and Reconciliation holiday, please contact our team at Unified LLP