Supreme Court Ruling

BC Supreme Court finds BC Teacher’s Federation in Contempt of Court for going on Strike.

The following was clipped from David Schreck’s web page.
October 6, 2005

Teachers’ Civil Disobedience

“They could threaten to put me in prison.”
Jenny Sims, BCTF President, quoted in The Province, October 6, 2005

There is one important ambiguity in what Sims said; who are “they”? They are not the government. Governments used to include nasty penalties in back to work legislation, but modern labour law puts the really mean stuff over to the courts.

Sims and the BCTF executive may be stubborn but they aren’t stupid. They know that the employers’ association will attempt to get a ruling from the Labour Relations Board by Thursday afternoon, and that the employers will certainly succeed in getting an order by Friday afternoon that a full scale withdrawal of services is an illegal strike. The order will then be registered in BC Supreme Court where the union will be called up on charges of contempt of court for failing to abide by the order. If the union directs its members to return to work immediately, it might get off with a finding of civil contempt and relatively minor fines. If the job action continues, the union and its officers could be found in criminal contempt of court with substantial fines and jail sentences.

Case law on “illegal strikes” was made in Alberta when the United Nurses of Alberta went on strike in January, 1988, contrary to directives made under the Alberta Labour Relations Act forbidding the strike; they were found to be in criminal contempt of court and fined $400,000. In 1992 the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the criminal contempt of court; a dissenting opinion said:

“The conduct of the union leadership was not sufficient to transform the civil contempt into criminal contempt. The element of public injury was missing from the breach of the order. The nurses neither flaunted their disobedience of the order nor presented any threat of violence. The diffidence of their spokesperson in discussing the matter with press indicated that the union did not intend to bring the administration of justice into a disrepute or hold it up to scorn.”
The fact that the teachers are willing to risk fines and jail shows how angry they are with the Campbell government for using legislation to break their contract and remove their right to bargain working and learning conditions, class size, number of special needs students per class, whether special needs students must have assistance and other matters that are crucial to how classrooms function.

Many of the civil rights we take for granted were only achieved because someone was willing to take on the establishment with civil disobedience. The teachers are at the threshold of deciding how far they will go with their civil disobedience. The government could defuse the conflict by agreeing to discuss working and learning conditions at a separate table, as recommended by its fact finder, or it can stand back and let the process unfold, complete with the court process. Those who engage in civil disobedience have to be ready to accept the consequences. It looks like the teachers are prepared.

A slightly different version was published in The Tyee.

Sunday, October 9, 2005
Posted at 8:15 PM EDT>

Vancouver; A B.C. Supreme Court justice ruled Sunday that the province’s public school teachers were in contempt of court after they launched a walkout that shut down British Columbia’s schools. The B.C. Public School Employers Association was seeking to have the B.C. Teachers’ Federation found in contempt of a Labour Relation Board ruling on Friday that said teachers are involved in an illegal job action.

“I declare that the teachers are in contempt of the order of Oct. 6; Justice Nancy Brown said on Sunday. No citizen or group of citizens may choose which orders they may obey,” Judge Brown said.

The judge asked lawyers to return on Thursday so penalties can be decided. Association lawyer Nazeer Mitha called Friday’s walkout by unionized teachers;premeditated and deliberate. He asked that the union produce its financial statements at Thursday’s hearing.

Association lawyer Michael Hancock said the union is paying $2-million a day in strike pay to its members.

No union officials attended the rare Sunday sitting of the court and after the ruling, their lawyer, John Rogers, said he did not know whether the teachers would return to their classes or the picket lines on Tuesday.

Mr. Rogers had told the court earlier he had been advised by the federation that teachers intended to continue with their walkout.

The province’s 42,000 teachers set up pickets on Friday, keeping more than 600,000 students from their lessons.

However, the union is expected to go before the province’s Labour relations Board on Tuesday, asking it to reconsider its ruling on the legality of their strike. “They have gone from full bargaining rights to no rights in collective bargaining,” he said.

The rest of this story can be found at The Globe and Mail

One thought on “Supreme Court Ruling

  1. Teachers taking a stand!
    Court ruling, October 9th
    We are sorry to hear that the court has found that our actions are in contempt of court. Teachers have the utmost respect for the law and judiciary. However, teachers voted 90.5% to take a stand for public education. I contacted the Minister of Labour this afternoon to inform him that we are available 24/7 to work out a solution that opens the schools again. We have yet to hear back.
    Jinny Sims, president.

    See the Taking a stand bulletin #1

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