Supreme Court Rules That Labour Rights Are Charter Rights

By Cameron, Duncan | CCPA Monitor, July/August 2007 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Supreme Court Rules That Labour Rights Are Charter Rights

Cameron, Duncan, CCPA Monitor


Fundamental labour rights, pursued historically and recognized under international conventions, must be respected in Canada, according to the highest court in the land. In a judgment rendered June 8, the Supreme Court of Canada reversed itself and recognized that freedom of association includes the right to collective bargaining.

Collective bargaining complements and promotes the values expressed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, according to this major judgment affirming that the role of trade unions cannot be repressed "in a free and democratic society."

The Supreme Court decision struck down key provisions of Bill 29, introduced five years ago by the government of British Columbia as part of a plan to contract out and privatize that province's health services. The decision not only overturned lower court judgments, but, more importantly, it also re-wrote the Supreme Court's own jurisprudence on key issues of labour rights.

The Canadian labour movement can now look forward to a brighter future in pursuing collective bargaining rights on fundamental workplace issues. The Court states firmly that collective bargaining is necessary for workers "to influence the establishment of workplace rules and thereby gain some control over a major aspect of their lives, namely their work."

Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states: "Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: a) freedom of conscience and religion; b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and d) freedom of association."

However, in a crucial trilogy of labour cases decided by the Supreme Court in 1987, five years after the adoption of the Charter, freedom of association was severely limited. Justices argued that, through association, individuals could protect their rights as individuals, but did not gain any additional rights, such as the right to bargain collectively.

Choosing its words carefully, the Surpreme Court in June overruled its labour trilogy's exclusion of collective bargaining as a necessary part of freedom of association: "None of the reasons provided by the majorities in those cases survive scrutiny."

The Justices cited the testimony of a former Liberal Minister of Justice, who admitted that the Charter's right of association had been intended to include the right to collective bargaining, even though it was not made explicit.

The majority decision, six justices concurring and one partially dissenting, draws upon the work of labour historians, labour law specialists, and government commissions to outline the context for the Court's explicit recognition of collective bargaining as a fundamental freedom.

While the Hospital Employees' Union and the British Columbia Government Employees Union can celebrate a victory for all Canadian workers, the (mostly) women who lost salaries, benefits, severance pay, and jobs through layoffs were not offered remedies by the Court decision.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Supreme Court Rules That Labour Rights Are Charter Rights


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?