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The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada > News & Events > Communications Magazine > Vol. 37, No. 2, Summer 2011 > Know Your Rights - The Labour Movement in Action
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Know Your Rights - The Labour Movement in Action

Katty Duranleau & Erik MacKay

Katty Duranleau, from the Law firm of Trudel Nadeau with Erik MacKay, Employment Relations Officer, Montréal Office at the Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers conference.

This past May 13, 14 and 15, Vancouver hosted the 20th conference of CALL, the Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers which found form and voice in the late 1980s. Its primary goal was to create a consultation network across the country for sharing the experience, expertise and knowledge they were acquiring. As one participant said of the group at the last conference, “Since they agree to work twice as hard for half the money, why not share the results of their hard work!” The conference is conducted in the spirit of collaboration and not competition. The Institute has always promoted participation in this conference as being of the utmost importance to labour relations and the labour movement.

Two themes emerged from the workshops, roundtables and panel discussions in which we took part this year.

Human Rights Commissions An Endangered Species

In the early 1970s, further to the advent of the "Charters", enthusiasm for human rights issues opened the doors to the creation of Commissions that played an active, dynamic role in promoting human rights education, expression and recourse. Through these commissions, citizens were given access to investigative and mediation services. They could even count on the commissions for support to represent them before human rights tribunals.

Today, it seems the survival of these commissions is in peril across our nation. Some provinces, like British Columbia and Ontario, have actually abolished them. The only survivors are the human rights tribunals, buried in the long list of specialized administrative bodies that already exist.

Freedom of Association

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In Dunmore, the Supreme Court recognized freedom of association for agricultural workers. This was previously prohibited by the various labour codes because they were excluded from the application of the Act. This judgment spawned a flurry of activity. Provincial legislatures had to review their various codes to accommodate the judgment, which had taken an established fact and turned it on its ear.

As a result of this progressive judgment, the Supreme Court issued another in the 2007 case of B.C. Health Services, in which it upheld freedom of association and included freedom to bargain collectively as being part of freedom of expression. It was a giant leap forward. Freedom of association had been established on the same footing as the other rights entrenched in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The reasons to rejoice in the open-mindedness shown by Canada's highest court have just been treated to an icy shower by the most recent of this trilogy of SCC judgments: rendered April 29 in Fraser, it represents the final episode in the chapter opened to agricultural workers by the aforementioned Dunmore case. The Supreme Court did an about face by specifying that the right to freedom of association requires nothing more than establishing a process for dialogue in which the employees' association may make presentations to the employer, who must listen to them and discuss them in good faith. It is the associative activity that is protected and not the process or a specific outcome. Therefore—no right to strike, no requirement to produce a collective agreement. It's talk for the sake of talking.

Contributor: Pierrette Gosselin Regional Representative Québec Regional Office