Supreme Court of Canada victory for BC teachers sends strong message to governments across Canada

November 10, 2016

In a very rare move, Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled from the bench that the BC government violated the guarantee of freedom of association under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms when it passed legislation stripping class size protections from BC teachers’ collective agreements.

“The Supreme Court of Canada has sent a strong message to governments across the country that they must respect the collective bargaining process and cannot act unilaterally in stripping collective agreement protections,” said CLC president Hassan Yussuff.

The Supreme Court’s decision overruled the decision of the BC Court of appeal, which had in turn reversed the trial judge’s finding that the government had not acted in good faith prior to enacting legislation stripping the class size provisions from the collective agreement.

In its brief reasons for judgement, the Supreme Court said that it substantially agreed with the dissenting reasons of Justice Donald of the BC Court of Appeal, who would have upheld the original reasons of the trial judge finding a violation of the freedom of association guarantee.

In substantially agreeing with the dissenting reasons of Justice Donald, the SCC has recognized, as Justice Donald emphasized, that:

“Collective bargaining is protected in the sense that substantial interference with past, present, or future attempts at collective bargaining can render employees’ collective representatives effectively feckless, and thus negate the employees’ right to meaningful freedom of association. Actions by government that reduce employees’ negotiating power with respect to the employer can satisfy this standard of substantial interference.”

Justice Donald also stated that:

“To be meaningful, the bargaining parties must consult from an assumed position of ‘approximate equality’. I note here that in SFL, Abella J., writing for the majority of the Court, found that a right to strike was essential in order to maintain ‘approximate equality’ between employees and employers in the collective bargaining process.”

As a result of today’s court decision, the class size protections will be restored to teacher collective agreements in BC.

“Given how hostile this week’s US election outcome was to the interests of working people, it is gratifying to be reminded that Canada’s constitution enshrines the principles of good faith bargaining and the right to strike,” said Yussuff.

“This is also a crucial victory for parents and children, and is an excellent example of how unions like the BC Teachers’ Federation are standing for fairness and for a better public education system across the country,” he added.