The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld an Alberta law requiring teachers and other school employees to take a leave of absence when running for office as school trustees and to resign from their employment if elected.
The Alberta Teachers’ Association alleged that the Local Authorities Election Act violated teachers’ right to freedom of expression and their equality rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The legislation was enacted in 2004 following an acrimonious labour dispute.
The Court found that teachers’ freedom of expression was not violated because their practical exclusion from school trusteeship did not substantially interfere with their ability to express themselves on the subject of the education system. The teachers remained free to speak at school trustee meetings, to lobby trustees and to sit on school councils. The Court also held that the right to take part in the management of the local education system is not a constitutionally protected right.
On the issue of equality rights, the Court concluded the teachers’ rights were not infringed because their differential treatment under the legislation was not based on any prohibited grounds of discrimination set out in the Charter or on any analogous grounds.
In the lone dissent, Fish J. determined that the law infringed teachers’ freedom of expression on the basis that the right to expression on educational matters is a constitutionally protected right.