Supreme Court of Canada Grants BC Teachers’ Union Appeal in Freedom of Association Case

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On November 10, the Supreme Court of Canada granted the appeal of the British Columbia Teachers Federation, in an case that placed the union at odds with the Education Improvement Act, 2012. The British Columbia Teachers Federation challenged the constitutionality of the Education Improvement Act on the basis that it was the same as the Education Flexibility and Choice Act, 2002, which had been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of British Columbia in 2011.

In 2011, the Supreme Court of British Columbia held that the Education Flexibility and Choice Act was unconstitutional because it infringed on teachers’ freedom of association under s. 2(d) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, due to the restrictions the statute placed on collective bargaining terms concerning working conditions. Broadly, the BC Supreme Court found that the statue violated the protection of teachers’ freedom to associate and make representations to their employer and have the employer consider them in good faith. The Supreme Court of British Columbia found that the infringement was not justified under s. 1 of the Charter and gave the provincial government and the British Columbia Teachers Federation twelve months to re-negotiate and come to a resolution.  Twelve months passed with no resolution and the government of British Columbia enacted the Education Improvement Act.

The British Columbia Teachers Federation challenge the constitutionality of the Education Improvement Act on the basis that it was the same as the Education Flexibility and Choice Act. The challenge made its way back to the British Columbia Supreme Court in 2014. The main issue for the BC Supreme Court this time was whether there was something new in the Education Improvement Act that made it constitutional. The BC Supreme Court concluded that there was no basis for distinguishing the Education Improvement Act from the Education Flexibility and Choice Act. The BC Supreme Court found that the Education Improvement Act was essentially the same and still included a prohibition on collective agreement terms dealing with working conditions. Thus, the BC Supreme Court concluded that the Education Improvement Act still substantially interfered with the s. 2(d) Charter rights of teachers in BC.

The government of British Columbia appealed, and on April 30, 2015 the BC Court of Appeal overruled the BC Supreme Court and held that the Education Improvement Act did not violate teachers’ constitutional right to freedom of association under s. 2(d) of the Charter. The BC Court of Appeal said that the bargaining was done in good faith and there was no infringement on teachers’ s. 2(d) rights.

On appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, however, the British Columbia Teachers Federation successfully proved their case. It took the Supreme Court less than half an hour to conclude that the BC Court of Appeal erred in their decision. Citing their agreement with the BC Supreme Court, the Supreme Court allowed the appeal in a 7-2 majority decision. The Supreme Court re-affirmed that statutory restrictions on certain collective bargaining rights between the government and public sector employees can be a violation of s. 2(d), freedom of association rights.

To view the decision click here.

This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.