Unions’ Charter challenge in Judge’s hands

Decision expected this fall

Legal counsel for B.C. health care unions wrapped up their case against Bill 29 on Thursday, April 24 following nine days of proceedings in B.C.’s Supreme Court. A decision as to whether the contract-breaking legislation will be declared unconstitutional is now in the hands of Madame Justice Nicole Garson, and is expected to be handed down sometime this fall.

The unions’ legal suit contended Bill 29 violates three fundamental rights enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — the right to freedom of association, the right to liberty and security of the person, and the right to equality of treatment.

Arguments concerning freedom of association, considered one of the most important protections trade unionists and working people have under the Charter, centered on the unions’ contention that collective bargaining is a constitutionally protected right that was breached by Bill 29.

In relation to liberty and security of the person it was argued that in addition to the financial importance of work, employment is key to an individual’s sense of personal identity and place in society, and government cannot arbitrarily take those rights away.

In the area of equality rights, the suit contended that Bill 29 targets and discriminates against a female dominated workforce, and strips away years of pay equity gains by permitting the whole sale contracting out of health care workers’ jobs.

The government admitted that Bill 29 deals harshly with health care workers, but argued the Court should not interpret the Charter as expanded protection for collective bargaining rights as the legislation is a legitimate exercise of government’s law making authority.