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exclusion of principals upheld in ontario
June 24, 2000

A recent decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal supports the exclusion of school principals from teacher bargaining units. In Ontario Teachers’ Federation v. Ontario (Attorney General), [2000] O.J. No. 2094, the Court heard a challenge arising out of the Education Quality Improvement Act (Bill 160) enacted in 1997.The Act changed education finance, program delivery, school board management and collective bargaining rights of teachers. However, as first drafted, Bill 160 left principals and vice principals in teacher union bargaining units.

Teachers and their unions launched an Ontario-wide protest against Bill 160 which included strike activity. Bill 160 was then amended to remove principals and vice-principals from teacher bargaining units and from statutory membership in teachers’ unions. It also removed their right to unionize and be included in any bargaining unit. The Bill received assent in December of 1997.

Teachers’ unions and representatives claimed that the amendments were made in reprisal for the protest. They unsuccessfully sought a declaration that the amendments contravened the Charter freedoms of expression and association. They appealed to the Court of Appeal.

The appeal was dismissed. The court ruled that the amendments were enacted as a result of principals’ participation in the protest. However, the purpose of the amendments was not reprisal or punishment. The amendments were intended to resolve principals’ conflict between their duty to stay and manage schools during a strike and their loyalty to teachers’ unions. The amendments did not have an invalid purpose and did not infringe the freedoms of expression or association. The amendments did not have the effect of reprisal for participation in political protest. They applied to all principals regardless of participation in protests. Removal of statutory membership in teachers’ unions did not violate principals’ freedom of association. Mandatory membership was not guaranteed by the Charter.

In BC, principals and vice principals have been excluded from all union bargaining units by statute since teachers were given the right to unionize and strike.

(Click here for copy of judgment)