Posts tagged BCTF

A teachers’ strike means, unfortunately, that we are living in interesting times

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Tomorrow is the start of a three-day strike that will impact nearly every person in British Columbia.  Roughly 41,000 teachers will withdraw their services following a recent vote of members of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (see the BCTF’s press release here). 

Janet Steffenhagen of the Vancouver Sun reported that most public schools in the province will be closed tomorrow, as school authorities urge parents to make alternative arrangements for the supervision of their children.  With the strike having been announced on Thursday, parents will have had a couple of days to prepare for this, but school closures are never easy for anyone to deal with.  Many, many businesses and other organizations rely on employees, managers and contractors with children in public schools, and not everyone has a grandparent, friend or spouse with the flexibility to stay home and watch the kids.

In other words, this is gonna sting. 

So, how did we get here?!  Well, that really depends who you ask, but here are the basics of the story:

  • For the past decade or so, the BCTF and the provincial government – represented here by the British Columbia Public School Employers’ Association - have locked horns over a variety of issues, including teachers’ wages and class size and composition.
  • The BCTF and the BCPSEA have been in high-level negotiation sessions without substantial progress for the past year, and the BCTF has been in a heightened state of protest since September. 
  • Last week, the British Columbia Labour Relations Board ruled that the BCTF could strike for three days without breaking the BCLRB decision designating education as an essential service, provided the BCTF gave the BCPSEA at least two days’ notice and the teachers did not picket.
  • Later that day, George Abbott, the Minister of Education, introduced Bill 22 (BC Legislature), which is intended to end the dispute and return the parties to mediation with particular references for the mediator.  The BCTF was horrified with Bill 22.

Which brings us to tomorrow.  Here is the Vancouver Sun editorial board’s take on the situation, clearly siding with the government. 

The BCTF has beat out the government on many of the legal issues connected to the tit-for-tat over the years.  Most recently, the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled (see here) that certain provisions of the School Act (BC Laws) dealing with class size that were introduced by the government to remove them from the bargaining table were unconstitutional.

The challenge for both sides may be to try to win the battle and the war.  The BCTF may win in the streets, the legislature or the courtroom but lose in the dining rooms – and for the months and years that follow, that may make all the difference.

These are bad times in court for school authorities

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In the past couple of weeks, school authorities in British Columbia have suffered two significant losses in court:

  1. In British Columbia Teachers’ Federation v. British Columbia (BC Courts), the Honourable Madam Justice Griffin of the BC Supreme Court ruled that the legislation brought in to remove class size from bargaining but rather to insert provisions on class size directly into the School Act (BCLaws) violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and FreedomsHere (GlobeandMail) is a discussion of the decision and its implications, and here is the response of the BCTF (calling the decision “huge”).  Here is the response of the BC Public School Employers’ Association. 
  2. In Riazi v. Vancouver School District No. 39 (CanLII), the Honourable Madam Justice Dardi of the BC Supreme Court certified as a class action an application by parents regarding fees charged by a school board in relation to certain summer school courses.  Here (Global) is a discussion of the decision and its implications. 

Each of these decisions represent a significant threat to the province and school districts and should be treated with great care.

BCCA favours BCTF in class size grievance against school employers

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The BC Court of Appeal has released its decision (CanLII) in another round of litigation over class sizes between the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and the British Columbia Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA), setting aside the original arbitration and court decisions and sending the matter back to the initial arbitration stage with some guidance.  Essentially, the court sided with the BCTF, which has claimed the victory.

Here is the BCPSEA’s take on the decision, which includes a fairly comprehensive backgrounder and overview of the judgment.  Here is the BCTF’s press release.  Here is coverage from the Vancouver Sun’s education reporter, Janet Steffenhagen, on the decision;  scroll to the bottom of the page to review some of the public comments.

Class size has been a hotly contested issue between teachers and their employers in public schools for many years (see here for another post on the subject).  This most recent decision of the BC Court of Appeal serves to further refine the meaning of the provisions on class size added to the School Act (BCLaws).  See here, here, here, here, and here (CanLII) for a sampling of decisions dealing with these provisions.

Government report raises serious concerns about the BCCT

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The big news in education this week surrounded the report (Ministry of Education) of Don Avison, a lawyer and former NDP deputy education minister, who claimed that the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation has interfered with the affairs of the British Columbia College of Teachers (BCCT) and that the BCCT is mired in dysfunction and government intervention and reform is essential.   The report, which isn’t lengthy,  should be read by anyone with an interest in education in BC or the self-regulation of the teaching profession.

Mr. Avison was appointed (The Province) by current Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid following a series of allegations before the summer by the chairman of the BCCT about the conduct of the BCTF in relation to the functions of the BCCT.  The BCTF has started a defamation lawsuit againt the chairman in May (see here for more information), but it’s unclear whether that claim is ongoing.

One interesting element of this story, which like anything else has considerable political elements, is what legal instruments the province has decided to use to regulate teachers.  The BCCT is governed by the Teachers Profession Act (BC Laws), which sets out, for example, in section 5 how the council will be composed:

5 (2) The council consists of the following:

(a) 12 members elected to serve on the council as the representatives of the zones;

(b) 7 persons appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council on the recommendation of the minister, at least 3 of whom must be members;

(c) one person, nominated jointly by the deans of the faculties of education in British Columbia, who is appointed by the minister to hold office during pleasure.

One of the recommendations of the report involves enhancing government control and control generally is one of the re-occuring themes running.  Who should control the BCCT: teachers or the government?  Should the council be composed entirely of government appointees?  Who should ultimately be responsible?  Who should be able to make final decisions on all matters, other than the courts? 

These are often political decisions that require legal implementation.  See the positions of the Vancouver Sun here and the BCTF here.

Nanaimo teachers start lawsuit against school district on class sizes

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I have considerable sympathy for good teachers.  From my experience as a parent, taking care of two kids is overwhelming.  Although my son (the elder) is talented at saying “no” to me in multiple language, with different accents, etc., he isn’t yet at the stage where he thinks he knows more than me, thinks I’m just plain uncool, and thinks my time with him is a like a punishment for him, when he has to sit and listen to me try to teach him things he prefers not to be taught.  No one else is looking over my shoulder asking why he can’t recite this or that, why I haven’t used this or that learning approach, or – worst of all – questioning my true motivations as an adult for wanting to spend so much time with children.

After a friend of mine had a third child, he said him and his wife went from playing “man-to-man” defense to zone.  You’re outnumbered, so just take choose space between them and try to juggle until they fall asleep without you being defeated.  Teachers, in my mind, are always playing zone.  They have a different role than parents – of course – but they share certain obligations and expectations.  Also, the purpose of their time is to educate, not just to babysit.  Not easy to do it well. 

That’s why any news of class size issues raises my ears.  Derek Spalding of the Vancouver Sun reported over the weekend that the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association filed a petition in the BC Supreme Court against the Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District relating to its approval of certain classroom sizes, which the NDTA alleges involves a misinterpretation of the School Act (see a link to another post on class sizes here).  I haven’t seen any of the documents filed with the court, so it’s hard to get a perfect sense of the legal issues being raised, but I presume it reaches back to the debate about Bill 33 (BC Legislative Assembly), which deals directly with class sizes.  Here is some background information on class sizes put out by the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation.

The statutory framework of the this issue involves section 76.1 of the School Act and the Class Size RegulationThis is a link to an index of the laws related to K to 12 education put out by the Ministry of Education, which points to different relevant provisions that may be useful for anyone interested in learning more. 

Far more lawsuits start than end with a judgment.  We’ll see where this one goes.

BCTF sues chair of BC College of Teachers for defamation

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CBC reported earlier today that the BC Federation of Teachers (BCTF) has commenced a defamation lawsuit against Richard Walker, the current chair of the BC College of Teachers, for comments he made in an opinion piece published in a May edition of the Vancouver Sun.  (A link to the court document filed by the BCTF. which contains excerpts of the opinion piece, is available through the CBC article above.)

In the opinion piece, Walker noted that 270 complaints against teachers from members of the public (through the “person complaint” process) have been filed with the College since 2003 but no teacher has been disciplined, a fact which he alleged raises serious questions about how the BCTF has been using the College illegitimately to protect certain teachers to the detriment of students.  He also argued that changes should be made to the way the College functions in relation to the BCTF, specifically the endorsement by the BCTF of candidates for election to the governing body of the College.  Walker referred to Tom Ellison (Vancouver Sun), a teacher and convicted sex offender, to highlight the need for a procedure to identify and deal with troublesome teachers early on.  The opinion piece, among other factors, prompted Education Minister Margaret McDiarmid to launch a review of the College, which was not supported by the BCTF.

BCTF claims that Walker’s allegation that it interferes with, or bears undue influence upon, the disciplinary process maintained by the College is false and untrue and that BCTF suffered loss as a result on Walker’s defamatory words.

Is it likely a court will side with BCTF?  Here is a summary from the Canadian Encyclopedia of the law of defamation in Canada by Lewis N. Klar, a renowned author and expert on Canadian tort law:  

Defamation law protects an individual’s reputation and good name. Defamation law does, however, restrict freedom of speech. Thus, in deciding defamation actions, the courts must carefully balance these 2 important values…  

With the advent of the electronic mass media, such as radio and television, the difference between the written and spoken word became less important. Widely disseminated speech can cause as much harm as something which is written down. As a result, some provinces have even eliminated any practical distinctions between libel [i.e. written defamation] and slander [i.e. oral defamation].

In order to succeed in an action for defamation, the claimant must prove 3 things. First, that the material was defamatory. This means that it lowered the person’s reputation in the eyes of the “right-thinking” person. Second, it must be proved that the material referred to the claimant. In other words, people who heard or saw the material must have realized that it was the claimant whose reputation had been tarnished. This requirement prevents individual members of defamed groups from suing for defamation since it is the group itself that has been targeted. Third, it must be proved that the material was communicated to or published for someone other than the person actually defamed.

Even if the claimant can prove those three things, the onus shifts to the defendant to provide a defense.  There are two defenses, among others, that Walker may assert in these circumstances:

  1. It’s the Truth.  Generally, you can’t sue someone to stop them from saying things that are true about you.  The protection of one’s reputation under defamation cannot be stretched that broadly.  Since the onus to prove the truth of the allegations contained in the opinion piece are on Walker, it will be interesting to see what facts are brought in support.
  2. It’s a Fair Comment.  Opinions on matters of public interest that can be honestly-held on the proven facts are protected.  This is a softer defense than the truth – while the truth is an “absolute defense”, the defense of fair comment is eroded if the writer or speaker acted with the intent to injure the target of the comments or otherwise pursue their reputation with malice.  This is addressed pre-emptively by the BCTF in their document filed with the court.

Thus far, only BCTF’s perspective on this matter has been presented in the media.  It will be interesting to see how Walker chooses to respond.  In any event, this news reminds all of us, even in the world of education, that our words carry legal consequences and that in the age of the internet – where everyone with a modem has a megaphone – is becoming increasingly important for us to use those words with caution.

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