TORONTO — Canada Post has emerged victorious from a legal battle which saw it lock horns with the city of Hamilton over the placement of new community mailboxes.
The dispute was one which was closely watched by municipalities across the country as the case dealt with just how much of a say local governments can have over where the controversial mailboxes can be installed.
After hearing both sides make their arguments in court, an Ontario judge found Thursday that a city bylaw, which required Canada Post to obtain a $200 permit per site to install boxes on municipal land, did not apply to the Crown corporation.
“By-law No. 15-091 is inapplicable and inoperative, in other words, without effect in respect of community mailboxes by or on behalf of Canada Post,” Justice Alan Whitten wrote in his decision.
“This lack of applicability of the by-law is understandable given its conception by those who sought to thwart the policy decision made by Canada Post after considerable research and consultation, to transition the remaining third of residences from home delivery to community mailboxes.”
The city had brought in the bylaw after resident complaints over safety, privacy, litter and traffic when the mailboxes were installed in what they considered less-than-ideal locations.
With the bylaw, city staff would assess each mailbox’s location to ensure it meets city standards before granting a permit to Canada Post.
But Canada Post ignored the bylaw, saying it infringed on federal rules that grant it final say over the location of mail receptacles.
When the city issued an order in late April for the mail service to stop installing the community mailboxes until it complied with the bylaw, Canada Post filed a notice in Ontario Superior Court asking for the bylaw to be declared invalid.
In making its arguments in court, Canada Post had said upholding the bylaw would be a breach of federal statute and delay reforms to the national mail service.
It had also said that its move to end home mail delivery is necessary to its financial survival as more Canadians switch to electronic means of communication.
Whitten found Canada Post is “entitled to make decisions which go to the benefit of its survival.”
Canada Post welcomed the court decision, saying it would continue to “work collaboratively” with municipalities and homeowners to find suitable locations for its new mailboxes.
“Canada Post is pleased that the corporation’s legal authority to install community mailboxes on municipally owned property has been upheld. This is a long-standing authority, but not one we take for granted,” it said in a statement. “Canada Post continues to take action to preserve the postal system for all Canadians in light of the steep, ongoing decline in mail.”
A spokesman with the city of Hamilton said the decision was being reviewed carefully in consultation with a constitutional specialist.
City councillor Terry Whitehead, one of the most vocal critics of Canada Post throughout the legal dispute, added that Thursday’s decision was likely only round one in the legal battle.
“Our bylaw works in harmony with their legislation,” he said. “It was about ensuring there were standards that took into consideration safety, lighting, urban forest and Canada Post doesn’t have that expertise but cities do.”
While Thursday’s decision was a win for Canada Post, it still faces legal action on multiple other fronts.
A union representing postal workers wants the Federal Court to declare the cancellation of home delivery unconstitutional. And a group of Montreal-area mayors has said it is considering joining the action, accusing Canada Post of ignoring their concerns.
Diana Mehta, The Canadian Press