Unions launch Charter of Rights suit against B.C. government to defend health workers, Medicare

Court asked to strike down Premier Campbell’s contract-breaking law, Bill 29
B.C. unions representing more than 100,000 health care workers today launched legal action in B.C. Supreme Court alleging that the Campbell government’s contract-breaking legislation, Bill 29, violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is unconstitutional.

And at a Vancouver press conference this afternoon, leaders from the four main health care unions say that among the legal remedies being sought, they’ll ask the courts to strike down the draconian Bill 29 that the Campbell government rammed through the legislature in late January.

Such a ruling from the court will block the Campbell Liberals’ radical health care restructuring plans that includes facility closures, deep service cuts and the largest privatization scheme in Canadian history in which 28,000 jobs could be axed. And it would restore the negotiated contract provisions in force for health care workers that Bill 29 unilaterally eliminated.

“We’re confident the court will decide, as it has in the past, that governments can’t rip up contracts with impunity. The previous government learned that from the Carrier Lumber case. Mr. Campbell will learn it from this case,” said George Heyman, president of the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union.

“We’re asking the court to restore our contracts, and to assess damages against the government to cover all financial and other costs to our members.

“Mr. Campbell has demonstrated he can’t be trusted to respect freely negotiated, legal contracts. He has created uncertainty and confrontation that hurts both caregivers and patients. We expect the court will have a far clearer understanding of the importance of respecting legal agreements,” said Heyman.

Cindy Stewart, president of the Health Sciences Association, said the Liberals have misled British Columbians about their plans for health care.

Bill 29 is not about improving health care or putting patients first,” Stewart said. “This legislation is about the government’s determination to implement an ideological agenda that punishes health care providers and rewards the Liberals’ corporate backers. Far from improving patient care, Bill 29 will cause irreparable damage to the services that communities rely on.”

The unions say Bill 29 violates the following basic rights and protections covered by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including:

  • Section 2 provisions on freedom of association and freedom of expression; and
  • Section 7 protections for security of the person; and Section 15 provisions covering equal protection and benefit of the law.
In addition, the unions allege Bill 29 also violates the Canadian constitutional principle of rule of law and other legal principles that are contained in the statements of claim filed today, B.C. Supreme Court Vancouver Registry number L020810.

Debra McPherson, president of the BC Nurses’ Union, points out that the legislation is especially hard on women, who make up the majority of health care workers.

“Rather than provide a living wage to women carrying out crucial services or provide incentives to attract and retain much needed nurses and other health care providers, this legislation attacks fundamental rights and will lead to increased stress, ill health and despair,” McPherson said.

Fred Muzin, president of the Hospital Employees’ Union (CUPE) said the legal suit is based on well-recognized and long-established legal principles. And he has a warning for health care administrators and multinational corporations who might seek to profit from the privatization of health services under Bill 29.

“When Bill 29 is struck down, there will be huge costs that neither health employers nor corporations will be able to insulate themselves from,” Muzin said. “Let’s be clear. Anyone who seeks to profit or benefit from this draconian legislation does so at their peril.”

The legal challenge is a coordinated effort on behalf of all unionized B.C. health care workers, and formally launched by health care bargaining associations representing health and support workers in facilities, registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses, health and support community, and paramedical professionals.

It’s being led by the largest unions in each association: the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union, B.C. Nurses Union, Health Sciences Association, and the Hospital Employees’ Union. Constitutional law experts Joe Arvay, QC of Arvay Finlay; and Leo McGrady, QC of McGrady, Baugh and Whyte are acting on behalf of the unions.

A court challenge on behalf of community social service workers, whose contracts were also torn up by Bill 29, is expected to be launched next month.

More information about the bargaining associations and the unions involved, along with details about Bill 29 and its impact on health workers and B.C.’s health care system are included in the media kit for today’s press conference.

News Release: Bill 29 puts in motion “extreme agenda for health care” — HEU

Backgrounder: Key information on unions’ Bill 29 Charter challenge

For more information:

Soren Bech, BCGEU Communications 604-291-9611

Rebecca Maurer, HSA Director of Communications 604-439-0994

Stephen Howard, HEU/CUPE Communications Director 604-240-8524

Patricia Wejr, BCNU Communications Officer 604-868-4260