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Canada Ontario violated teachers’ right to strike, court rules

In this August 2012 file photo, teachers and education workers protest against Bill 115 outside Queen's Park.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The Ontario government violated teachers' Charter rights in 2012, when it temporarily suspended the right to strike and imposed contracts on some teacher unions, a court has ruled.

The decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on Wednesday found the province contravened the unions' right to collective bargaining under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF), the Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario (CUPE) and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union launched the Charter challenge shortly after Bill 115, the Putting Students First Act, was passed in the fall of 2012 under then-premier Dalton McGuinty and Laurel Broten, the education minister at the time.

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What effect the ruling will have on the government was not immediately clear. ETFO said the court did not impose a penalty on the province, but asked that the government and unions negotiate "a remedy." If they cannot come up with something themselves, the court will impose one.

ETFO president Sam Hammond said his members feel "vindicated" by the court's ruling. He said his union will be speaking with other unions to discuss what type of remedy they will be seeking from the government, adding it is too early to say what it would look like.

"We're going to look at all the options available in terms of remedy," Mr. Hammond said. "This never should have happened the way it did."

A spokeswoman for Education Minister Liz Sandals said in a statement that the government is reviewing the decision.

As part of an austerity program, Mr. McGuinty sought to freeze teachers' pay and end the practice of banking unused sick days that could be cashed in upon retirement. While the government reached deals with some unions, ETFO, OSSTF and CUPE, which represents school support staff, would not agree to his terms. So the province imposed terms in Bill 115, which cut their wages, sliced their sick days and limited their ability to strike.

In protest, the unions stopped voluntary activities, such as leading clubs or sports teams, and offering extra help after school.

After Mr. McGuinty resigned and was replaced by Kathleen Wynne in early 2013, talks resumed and the government secretly made a series of concessions, including a raise for elementary teachers, longer maternity leaves and fewer unpaid professional days. The teachers stopped their work-to-rule campaign.

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