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Canada Post vehicles sit outside a sorting depot in the Ville St-Laurent borough of Montreal on June 6, 2011.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Residents have signed petitions. City councils passed motions denouncing Canada Post. One Montreal man protested by dumping a pile of soil on the site of an upcoming community mailbox.

But now, the opposition against the Crown corporation's plan to eliminate door-to-door mail delivery will be heard in court.

On Tuesday, the Ontario Superior Court will hear arguments about a new Hamilton bylaw that requires Canada Post to apply for a permit before each new supermailbox is installed.

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The case is one of two lawsuits against Canada Post's delivery plans. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers has also asked the courts to review the decision, saying it infringes on the Charter rights of the disabled and the elderly.

Both cases were triggered by Canada Post's announcement in 2013 that it would phase out home mail delivery and convert urban households to community mailboxes (CMBs).

Hamilton's bylaw

In a resolution last February, Hamilton's city council voiced its opposition to the end of home delivery but acknowledged that Canada Post could still proceed

The city tried to curb the arrival of the CMBs by claiming it had regulatory authority over the installation of equipment within its roads.

A bylaw adopted last month requires that Canada Post and its contractors obtain permits, paying a $200 fee for each new CMB.

The bylaw also imposes a four-month moratorium on installing new CMBs after Canada Post forks out $100,000 for the first 500 permits to cover the cost of setting up the new licensing system.

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The week after city council passed the bylaw, Hamilton officials sent Canada Post's contractors a stop-work order, threatening a $10,000 daily fine if they kept excavating around the city.

Federal paramountcy

Canadian constitutional law operates under a doctrine of paramountcy, where national law prevails when it conflicts with local statutes, municipal-law expert John Mascarin, a partner at the Aird & Berlis law firm in Toronto, said in an interview.

In its court notice, the Crown corporation echoed that view. "Canada Post, as an agent of Her Majesty in right of Canada, is immune from the operations of provincial and municipal laws," it said.

The city of Hamilton argues that its bylaw, while inconvenient for the Crown, does not prevent Canada Post's aim, but seeks to regulate the way the installations will be done, to ensure it is orderly and safe.

"It does not to prohibit or prevent the erection of the CMBs on public property or the delivery of mail. It simply requires that Canada Post … meet reasonable requirements and obtain a permit," the city said in its court factum.

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The factum notes for example that cable and gas companies all apply for permits. "One can only imagine the chaos and harm that would ensue if the permitting process was not followed by any of the federal users of municipal roads."

Federal employees are not exempt from legislation dealing with safety, the factum said, citing a 1992 case in which two mail truck drivers caught double-parking in Toronto tried without success to claim that the provincial Highway Traffic Act was not binding on Canada Post employees.

The second legal front

Meanwhile, CUPW, along with six groups representing the disabled and the elderly, and two individuals, have turned to the Federal Court.

Their application says the Canada Post decision discriminates against the disabled and the elderly, and violates the corporation's mandate to provide basic essential services.

One of the individuals is Toronto resident Patricia Israel. She and her husband both need wheelchairs full-time and they say they would have trouble going to and from a community mailbox.

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The other individual applicant, Susan Dixon, of Cambridge, Ont., is the mother of a seven-year-old boy who has cerebral palsy and needs a walker. "Elimination of home mail delivery will cause significant hardship to Ms. Dixon and her family," the application says.

The application notes that Section 5 of the legislation that created the Crown agency, the Canada Post Corporation Act, speaks of "maintaining basic customary postal service" and "providing a standard of service that will meet the needs of the people of Canada."

The union court notice also quotes André Ouellet, who was postmaster-general in 1980-81, when the federal postal department became a Crown corporation. "[Section] 5 guarantees the same level of essential services will be maintained," Mr. Ouellet told the House of Commons in October, 1980.

Four mayors from Montreal and its suburbs have said they also want to join the case.

Meanwhile, Canada Post is saying it will keep moving ahead with its plan, which is expected to cut costs by as much as $500-million a year.

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