Delta Airlines Inc. v Gábor Lukács: CCD Makes a Difference at the Supreme Court of Canada

I am pleased to report that on January 19, 2018 in the matter of Delta Airlines Inc. v Gábor Lukács, the Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) decided it is unreasonable for the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) to use a narrow criteria for determining which complaints can be heard.  The Supreme Court heard the case on October 4, 2017. 

The Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) intervened in Delta Airlines Inc. v Gábor Lukács at the SCC.  Byron Williams and Joëlle Pastora Sala from the Public Interest Law Centre ("PILC") appeared before the SCC, along with pro bono counsel Alyssa Mariani of Thompson Dorfman Sweatman (TDS) LLP (“TDS”), on behalf of CCD.  Sacha Paul of TDS was also an integral part of the team who worked on this case.

CCD’s Transportation and Human Rights Committees guided the development of the intervention.  Bob Brown chairs the Transportation Committee and Anne Levesque chairs the Human Rights Committee. 

At issue in the proceeding was the appropriate criteria for deciding whether to hear complaints before administrative bodies such as the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA).  CCD took the position that individuals and groups bringing serious issues before administrative bodies, such as the CTA, should heard.  It also argued that the protection offered by the CTA and other administrative bodies should be no less than the protection offered by the Canadian Human Rights Act.

The CCD argued that the CTA's discretion in identifying which complaints can be heard must be consistent with Act’s power to remedy obstacles and reduce rather than perpetuate barriers to access to justice. The arguments presented are of particular importance to CCD and to persons with disabilities because it may affect their efforts to effect barrier removal in the transportation system in a timely and cost effective manner.

The CCD intervention made a significant difference in the dialogue before the Court. The human rights aspects of the case were not really pursued before the Court of Appeal. The CCD intervention directly dealt with the relationship between the Canada Transportation Act and the Canadian Human Rights Act. As a result there was a discussion of the role of human rights by the CTA in its factum.

The SCC held that a narrow approach unreasonably prevents public interest groups such as CCD from bringing complaints forward.  Bringing cases about obstacles to mobility in the federally regulated transportation system is one way to remove barriers to travel for people with disabilities.

The SCC agreed with the CCD that “to refuse a complaint based solely on the identity of the group bringing it prevents the Agency from hearing potentially highly relevant complaints, and hinders its ability to fulfill the statutory scheme's objective.” The SCC found that the Agency's decision to deny Dr. Lukács' complaint based solely on his identity was unreasonable as it “did not maintain a flexible approach”.

Consistent with the CCD submission, the majority SCC decision held that a more appropriate criteria may be to consider whether the complaint raises a serious issue to be tried.

Noteworthy is the Court's recognition that the Agency's decision was flawed as it did not allow those with most at stake to be heard.  The disability community’s “Nothing About Us Without Us” principle is having an impact!

The SCC’s decision in Delta Airlines Inc. v Gábor Lukács will be useful to us in the future because it helps to ensure that groups like CCD will be able to continue to intervene before administrative bodies, like the CTA, to make the case for barrier removal. 

CCD expresses its sincere appreciation to Byron Williams, Joëlle Pastora Sala, Alyssa Mariani, Sacha Paul and the CCD Transportation and Human Rights Committee for their work on the intervention which resulted in this important decision. 

For full decision, see:

~ Jewelles Smith
Council of Canadians with Disabilities