Is a possible NHL lockout even legal in Canada?

Sean Rainey | Contributor

With the National Hockey League collective bargaining agreement set to expire on Sept. 15 and the owners drawing the line in the sand that they will lock out the players if no deal is reached, a question has arisen: If the NHL does have a lockout on Saturday, is it even legal in some provinces of Canada?

The NHL is made up of 30 teams, 7 of which are based in Canada in the provinces of Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Colombia.

Players from the Calgary Flames, and Edmonton Oilers have petitioned the Alberta Labour Relations Board to stop the lockout since Alberta law states, “an employer is not legally allowed to lock out its employees without a mediator and the Players Association is arguing that the NHL has not worked with the mediator assigned to this situation in August.”

The Montreal Canadiens players are asking the Quebec Labour Relations Board to tell the NHL a lockout is illegal in Quebec. Quebec law allows for a lockout only if the “employees are represented by a union.”

Montreal forward Erik Cole said of the situation Sunday, “The NHL seems content to lock out the players if an agreement isn’t reached this week and we would like the Quebec Labour Board to step in and inform them that their lockout would be in direct violation of the Quebec labour laws.”

The NHLPA began the process to be a union in Quebec in 2005 but the proceedings stopped before a recognized union was formed.

During the cancellation of the 2004-05 season due to a labor dispute, the Canadian teams’ players did not chose to not use providence law to get paid. If the Providences of Alberta and Quebec deem the NHL is violating the players employment rights in their respective Providences, players from these three teams would “be able to draw paychecks, as well as practice and train as usual in preparation for the upcoming season.”

The other 27 teams of the NHL would not be affected regardless of how the labor boards in Canada rule. Ontario has already given the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs permission to lock out the players. The players union is still exploring if they have any legal avenues in Manitoba and British Colombia.

Josh Gorges of the Habs said the point of using the legal action is very simple. “Even though it’s only three teams that may be involved in this, it may put pressure on other teams to say, ‘You know what? These guys are getting ready. They’re practicing; they’re getting themselves ready to play. Maybe we should have our players do the same sort of thing.’ It’s unfortunate that it’s not the same laws in every city, but I think it gives us the opportunity to put pressure on the owners to get a deal done so other teams can join us and we can start playing.”

For teams in the United States, all moves to block a lockout would have to go through the National Labor Relations Board.

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