Worker's EI Win Spotlights Softer Line on MJ

Worker's EI Win Spotlights Softer Line on MJ
Posted by CN Staff on March 25, 2004 at 09:29:14 PT
By Paul Waldie
Source: Globe and Mail 
Canada's tolerance toward marijuana has reached a new high, at least for Gary Locke. About three years ago, Mr. Locke was just finishing his shift at an Ontario poultry plant when he lit up a joint. His boss caught him and fired him on the spot.Mr. Locke, who had worked at the plant for about eight years, applied for employment insurance benefits. He was promptly turned down.
One EI official dismissed his application by saying: "Mr. Locke should be expected to be aware of what is and what is not acceptable behaviour and that it was not unreasonable for the employer to have a zero tolerance policy regarding the use of illegal drugs."After a series of appeals, Mr. Locke took his case to the Federal Court of Canada and won. The court found that the company, Horizon Poultry, had not explicitly told employees that they would be dismissed if caught smoking up. It also ruled that other employees at the plant had been caught smoking dope and only warned, not dismissed. Therefore, Mr. Locke's behaviour was not "such a fundamental breach of the employer/employee relationship that any employee must have known that, if apprehended, he was likely to be dismissed without warning," the court ruled in a decision made public this week."Although engaging in criminal conduct on an employer's premises may warrant dismissal, smoking a joint of marijuana in the circumstances of this case was not misconduct within the meaning [of EI legislation] because it was not willful or reckless," the court said.It ordered EI officials to reconsider Mr. Locke's application. He received full benefits. "I've never had a case like this," said Liam O'Brien, a lawyer in St. John's who represented Mr. Locke (he returned to Newfoundland shortly after being fired)."I was pleasantly surprised to tell you the truth," Mr. O'Brien added.He said a key factor in the case was Canada's new softer line on marijuana.The court "did touch upon the fact that at that time, in Ontario anyway, judges weren't even touching possession cases," he said. "It was more from the point of view of not saying that it's something that society accepts now, but society doesn't condemn it as much any more."Mr. O'Brien said he knows some people will find the decision outrageous. "Yes, that's generally what people do think. But you are talking about somebody who has paid into EI benefits for eight and a half years and makes a mistake and now he can't get any benefits. You look at it from that way of thinking, he's out of a job now and he's already paid in for benefits and hoped that he could be insured in the future if he loses his job."Mr. Locke was unavailable for comment. Mr. O'Brien said he hadn't found work since his dismissal from the chicken plant in October, 2000. However, because the case dragged on so long, he received a lump sum cheque from EI for about $10,000 representing the full benefits he was entitled to from the date of his dismissal. When asked if Mr. Locke had given up marijuana, Mr. O'Brien laughed and replied: "I couldn't answer that one if I knew. That's about all I can tell you."Horizon Poultry has since been taken over by Schneider Corp. Note: Three years after being fired for smoking a joint, court grants man full benefits.Complete Title: Former Poultry Worker's EI Win Spotlights Softer Line on MarijuanaNewshawk: afterburnerSource: Globe and Mail (Canada)Author: Paul WaldiePublished: Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - Page A2 Copyright: 2004 The Globe and Mail CompanyContact: letters globeandmail.caWebsite: -- Canada Archives
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