Beginning today, the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation will be in BC Supreme Court challenging three laws imposed by the BC Liberal government that teachers say violated their right to freedom of association under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The case goes back to January 2002, when Premier Gordon Campbell, then-Education Minister Christy Clark, and then-Labour Minister Graham Bruce rushed Bills 27 and 28 through the BC Legislature over the weekend. The Education Services Collective Agreement Act and the Public Education Flexibility and Choice Act sparked outrage amongst teachers, and indeed across the labour movement, because they gutted their collective agreements of important working and learning conditions. These included all clauses related to:
- class size
- class composition
- guarantees of service from teacher-librarians, counsellors, learning assistance and other specialist teachers
- support for integration of students with special needs
- length of the school day
- hours of instruction in a school year.
Bills 27 and 28 also prohibited the inclusion of such clauses in future contracts, and completely eliminated 10 local agreements with the stroke of a pen. An editorial in The Globe and Mail described the acts of the Campbell government as “legislative vandalism.” The International Labour Organization, a UN agency, found the BC government to be in contravention of international law, yet the Liberals did nothing to redress the breach.
“Teachers went on strike in 2005 to take a stand against the unjust stripping of our collective agreements and the devastating impact of these bills in classrooms across the province,” BCTF President Susan Lambert said. “Parents overwhelmingly supported us because they understood how important those contractual guarantees were to ensuring quality education.”
In the wake of the strike, the Liberal government enacted Bill 33, which placed limits on class size and composition in legislation rather than in collective agreements. However, in practice the limits are violated so often that they are virtually meaningless. As a consequence, teachers now must engage in lengthy and costly hearings in an effort to protect learning conditions. The continued existence of thousands of oversized classes provides ample evidence of the ineffectiveness of the legislation.
“We believe that the charter is on our side, that the stripping of our collective agreements was illegal,” said Lambert. “Almost nine years later, we are in BC Supreme Court to assert our rights and to demonstrate our ongoing determination to win for BC teachers and students the quality teaching and learning conditions they need and deserve. This is advocacy at its finest.”