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Court quashes $3.2M fine levied by Elections BC against BCGEU

The B.C. Government and Service Employees Union has succeeded in quashing a $3.2-million fine levied against it by Elections BC, according to the union. Tom Yachnin of the BCGEU's advocacy department, who argued the union appeal, said the oral decision was handed down Friday in B.C. Supreme Court Chambers by Justice Barry Davies.

"We were granted relief from the fine, because the judge found that we had acted in good faith," said Mr. Yachnin.

The hefty fine had been imposed on the BCGEU over union-paid television advertising that aired during a pair of spring by-elections earlier this year.

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But the union argued that the advertising campaign, which exceeded election spending limits, had not been aimed at the by-elections at all, but was part of a pre-arranged negotiating strategy, timed to coincide with the expiry of its collective agreement with the government.

When the by-elections were called, the union asked Elections BC if their ads, which featured workers criticizing government spending cuts and wage freezes, would be considered election advertising.

Elections BC said yes. Because of an overlooked email, however, the BCGEU ads continued to run for a few days during the campaign, before they were pulled.

In addition to doling out a $3.2-million fine, Elections BC also banned the union from advertising in next May's provincial election.

The court lifted that restriction, too, said Mr. Yachnin. "We certainly feel vindicated, in the sense that the judge found that we acted in good faith throughout the entire process."

When the union announced its decision last month to appeal the fine, they were strongly criticized by Liberal MLA John Les, who said there was no excuse for the BCGEU breaking the rules.

He called on the union to admit that they had contravened election advertising limits.

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Mr. Les could not be reached for comment Friday on the BCGEU's succesful appeal.

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