Hamilton Tries to Push the Envelope by Regulating Mailbox Placement

June 25, 2015

This article was written by a law student for the general public.

Canada Post v City of Hamilton, 2015 ONSC 3615

Introduction: Our Constitution splits up powers and responsibilities between the federal and provincial governments.[1] The federal government is in charge of the postal service.[2] Provincial governments are in charge of municipalities, and grant them authority to pass bylaws.[3] This case shows how the two spheres of power – federal and provincial – can run into each other, and how sometimes one has to give. A Hamilton bylaw attempted to regulate how Canada Post places its mailboxes. However, the Ontario Superior Court (the Court) declared the bylaw invalid, since it dealt with a federal government responsibility.

Facts: The federal government has exclusive control over the postal service. Canada Post is a Crown corporation that serves this purpose, and is under federal control.[4] Canada Post wanted to move away from door-to-door delivery. Instead, it wanted to place community mailboxes in certain locations.[5] Hamilton is a municipality, created by the Ontario government. The province has delegated powers to Hamilton to make bylaws.[6]  Hamilton passed a bylaw that required Canada Post to get permits to place community mailboxes, and for those permits to be approved by municipal officials.[7] Canada Post argued the bylaw was not valid because it was beyond Hamilton’s authority.[8] In other words, the power to control mailbox placement, and, in turn, mail delivery, belongs to Canada Post, which is under federal control.

Issue: Our Constitution sets out a division of powers between federal and provincial governments. By passing this bylaw, was Hamilton overstepping its limits, which were set out by this division of powers? [9]

Brief Conclusion: The Court stated the bylaw went beyond Hamilton’s powers and interfered with the operation of a Crown corporation under federal control.[10] Therefore, the bylaw was invalid.

Analysis: Canada Post is a federal Crown corporation, a government institution that establishes a postal service.[11] That means it has the ability to regulate the placement of its mailboxes.[12] Canada Post wanted to move toward using community mailboxes, which are cheaper and more efficient than door-to-door delivery.[13] Hamilton’s bylaw regulated the locations of community mailboxes, leaving the decision up to a municipal official’s discretion. [14] The Court said the bylaw gave the power over community mailboxes to Hamilton, and that it interfered with how Canada Post runs itself.[15]

The Court stated that the bylaw was beyond Hamilton’s power and intrudes into Canada Post’s ability to decide how it delivers mail.[16] It determined that the bylaw tried to control the location and installation of community mailboxes by implementing its own permit procedure. It was not a little, incidental intrusion that could be constitutionally tolerated. The bylaw was invalid, since it went against the division of powers outlined in the Constitution.[17]

Significance: This case shows that constitutional division of powers is important to determine who has power over what. Even in “an era of cooperative, flexible federalism,” this case is a reminder that different levels of government may not interfere with other levels and their allocated powers.[18]


[1] Constitution Act 1867(UK), 30 & 31 Vict c 3, ss 91-92, reprinted in RSC 1985, App II, No 5.

[2] Ibid at s 91(5).

[3] Ibid at s 92(8).

[4] Canada Post v City of Hamilton, 2015 ONSC 3615 at paras 4-5.

[5] Ibid at paras 1, 18-23.

[6] Ibid at paras 26-27.

[7] Ibid at paras 1, 40-50.

[8] Ibid at paras 58-59.

[9] Ibid at para 2.

[10] Ibid at paras 89-104.

[11] Ibid at paras 5-6.

[12] Ibid at paras 8-9.

[13] Ibid at paras 14-23.

[14] Ibid at para 40.

[15] Ibid at para 57.

[16] Ibid at para 89.

[17] Ibid at para 97.

[18] Ibid at para 82

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University of Alberta
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