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B.C. teachers’ union wins landmark appeal at Supreme Court

From the Globe and Mail

The Supreme Court of Canada has sided with the B.C. Teachers' Federation in a long-standing dispute over collective bargaining rights, issuing a rare ruling from the bench that will have significant implications for education in the province.

The surprise ruling, which followed a hearing in Ottawa on Thursday, sets the stage for negotiations to restore teaching positions and restrict class sizes, which would require millions of dollars in additional government funding. A notice posted to the court's website said the court allowed an appeal from the union in a 7-2 judgment.

The judges were out of the courtroom for about 15 or 20 minutes before returning to say the appeal was allowed, said B.C. Federation of Labour president Irene Lanzinger, who was in the courtroom for the hearing.

It took a few moments for the result to sink in.

All she [Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin] said, was 'the appeal is allowed' – that was it, it took about 30 to 45 seconds," Ms. Lanzinger, who was joined in Ottawa by current and former BCTF executives and staff, said in an interview.

"We were a bit stunned, frankly – we were thinking, 'OK, that means we won, right?'" She said it will take time to sort through the implications of the decision, but it will mean more resources for education, "It will mean that schools will again have to be staffed in compliance with those collective agreements," she said.

The case dates back to the provincial government's decision in 2002 to remove a number of contract terms related to class size and classroom composition from the collective agreement, while also prohibiting them from being included in future negotiations

The BCTF challenged the legislation and in 2011, a B.C. Supreme Court judge found the legislation violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and gave the government a year to fix the law.

The province passed new legislation the following year that included sections that had previously been declared unconstitutional, prompting a new court challenge from the union.

In 2014, the B.C. Supreme Court found the new legislation was virtually identical to the former laws and awarded the BCTF $2-million in damages. That ruling also included the provocative finding that during a recent round of contract negotiations, the government had attempted to provoke a teachers strike.

Thursday's Supreme Court of Canada decision upholds that 2014 decision.

Throughout the legal process, the provincial government has warned that restoring the contract terms deleted in 2002 could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

In its provincial budget last year, the province identified the case as a "major risk" to its balanced budget plans.

Bench decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada – issued the same day of a hearing – are relatively rare. The court typically takes several months to issue a decision.



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