Supreme Court agrees to hear appeal from BCTF

B.C. teachers’ dispute to be heard in Supreme Court
WATCH: The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal by the B.C. Teachers' Federation over provincial legislation dating back to 2012. Keith Baldrey explains.

This morning the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear the B.C. Teachers’ Union appeal regarding collective bargaining rights.

The BCTF was asking the high court to reconsider the B.C. Court of Appeal’s decision that found the province did not violate teachers’ constitutional rights when it introduced Bill 22 in 2012. The bill temporarily limited teacher bargaining on class size and composition.

In April 2015, the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the government in this long-running legal dispute between them and the BCTF. In a 4-1 decision, B.C.’s highest court overturned Madam Justice Susan Griffin’s two rulings that the government failed to consult with the BCTF in good faith and denied teachers their freedom of association.

“In our opinion, the legislation was constitutional,” wrote Chief Justice Robert James Bauman and Justice David Harris in their ruling, which was concurred by Justice Mary Newbury and Justice Mary Saunders.

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“Between the consultations and the collective bargaining leading up to the legislation, teachers were afforded a meaningful process in which to advance their collective aspirations. Their freedom of association was respected.”

The court also overturned the decision of Justice Griffin to award two million in charter damages to the BCTF.

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The court first ruled the government had violated teachers’ rights in a 2011 decision that restored the contract provisions that had been deleted nine years earlier.

The B.C. government passed legislation in 2012 that once again deleted the contract clauses and the teachers’ union responded with another legal challenge, which led to a second decision by Justice Griffin in the union’s favour in January 2014.

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The province appealed and a hearing was held last October. In its written arguments, the province said it had bargained in good faith and that it has the right to set education policy.

The court case emerged as one of the main sticking points in last year’s strike, which closed schools earlier in June and delayed the start of classes in September until the B.C. Teachers’ Federation signed a six-year deal.

It included a clause that could reopen negotiations for class size and composition, but the high court decision made that irrelevant.

Government’s response

B.C. Education Minister Mike Bernier says the government is confident in its legal position and is not surprised by the Supreme Court’s decision.

In a statement, Bernier said, “regardless of the court challenge, we are working collaboratively with the BCTF to implement the new curriculum and ensure teachers are trained to deliver its benefits to students.”

He adds that since the last round of bargaining, government’s relationship with the BCTF has never been better. He also maintains the focus needs to remain on students and classrooms during the legal process.

Bernier says he can’t comment on any legal aspects while the Supreme Court hears the appeal.

The BCTF now has 30 days to file its appeal.

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– With files from The Canadian Press and Justin McElroy