The Freedom of Association Mess: How We Got into It and How We Can Get out of It

By Langille, Brian | McGill Law Journal, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

The Freedom of Association Mess: How We Got into It and How We Can Get out of It


Langille, Brian, McGill Law Journal


Canadian constitutional law regarding freedom of association for workers is a mess. The jurisprudence to date has taken an approach to state action and positive obligations to legislate which is inconsistent with section 15, and has failed to articulate the relationship between the abstract statement of basic rights or freedoms and the detailed statutes and regulations that instantiate and enforce them. This paper focuses on the impact of the recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in BC Health. The author argues that this case misunderstood Canada's labour law history, international labour law obligations, "Charter values", and the distinction between "freedoms" and "rights".

This paper argues that by using labour relations statutes as a starting point and applying the constitutional idea of equality, courts can protect freedom of association for workers and find a way out of the mess we are in.

Le droit constitutionnel canadien relatif a la liberte d'association des travailleurs est un fouillis. Jusqu'a present, la jurisprudence a traite de l'action etatique et des obligations positives de legiferer de maniere incoherente avec l'article 15. Elle n'a pas reussi a articuler la relation entre l'enonciation abstraite des droits et libertes fondamentaux et les lois et reglements detailles qui leur donnent vie et les mettent en oeuvre. Cet article se concentre sur l'impact de la decision recente BC Health de la Cour supreme du Canada. L'auteur affirme que plutot que de clarifier le fouillis de la liberte d'association, cette affaire a mal saisi l'histoire du droit du travail au Canada, les obligations internationales en droit du travail du pays, les valeurs de la Charte, la nature des droits du travail et la distinction entre <> et <>.

Cet article affirme qu'en s'appuyant sur les lois relatives aux relations de travail et en appliquant l'idee constitutionnelle d'egalite, les tribunaux peuvent proteger la liberte d'association des travailleurs et trouver une solution au fouillis actuel.

Introduction

 I. The Four Propositions
    A. The First Proposition: The Historic Refusal to Apply Section
       2(d) to Collective Bargaining Was Incorrect
    B. The Second Proposition: The Exclusion of Collective
       Bargaining from the Ambit of Section 2(d) Is Inconsistent with
       Canada's Labour History
    C. The Third Proposition: International Law Treats Collective
       Bargaining as a Component of Freedom of Association
    D. The Fourth Proposition: The Court's Interpretation of Section
       2(d) in BC Health Is Consistent with Other Charter Rights
II. Thinking About Constitutional Labour Rights
    A. How the Court Boxed Itself into the Freedom of Association
       Mess
    B. Dunmore's Judicially Imposed Labour Code
    C. BC Health's Impact
    D. The Way Out
Conclusion

Introduction

Canadian constitutional law regarding freedom of association for workers is a mess. As the title of this article suggests, it is a mess that we have gotten ourselves into and one that we can get ourselves out of. As usual, the getting out part depends on understanding the mess we are in and how we got there.

This paper focuses on the recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Health Services and Support--Facilities Subsector Bargaining Association v. British Columbia. (1) This decision explicitly overruled a quartet of the Court's recent holdings on freedom of association and has now replaced those judgments as the key to our constitutional law on this topic. In BC Health, the Court struck down, as violating the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom's section 2(d) guarantee of "freedom of association", (2) certain provisions in a statute passed by the government of British Columbia to curtail health-care costs. The government adopted a number of strategies in these provisions, including rewriting existing collective agreements and forbidding renegotiation of the resulting changes, and did so without consulting or negotiating with the unions involved. …

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