Supreme Court sets dates for unions’ charter challenge

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On February 8 and 9, 2006, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear arguments as to whether Bill 29 — the Campbell Liberals’ contract-breaking legislation — violated health care workers’ constitutionally protected equality and freedom of association rights.

This is the final legal round in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms challenge first launched by HEU, the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union, the B.C. Nurses’ Union and others in March, 2002.

“Bill 29 virtually shredded legally negotiated collective agreements in the health care sector and made it possible to fire thousands upon thousands of skilled, experienced health care workers in every region of the province,” says HEU’s secretary-business manager Judy Darcy.

“Over the past four years, British Columbians have seen just how devastating this legislation has been for workers, patients, residents, families and communities,” she says. “It’s a piece of legislation that never should have seen the light of day.”

Bill 29 was brought in by the Campbell Liberal government in January, 2002. The new law eliminated key contract provisions like protections against contracting out, seniority rights and labour adjustment programs.

Although the unions’ charter challenge was dismissed by the Supreme Court of B.C. in September, 2003 and by the Appeal Court of B.C. in July, 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada granted the unions leave to appeal in April, 2005.

The unions’ legal counsel is Joe Arvay — a noted constitutional lawyer based in Victoria and Vancouver.