British Columbia’s Labour Code can apply to B.C.’s parliament buildings, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled on Friday.
Justice Bruce Ellwood rejected the legislative assembly of B.C.’s petition that sought to overturn a B.C. Labour Relations Board (LRB) decision in favour of a union’s application to bargain for special provincial constables at the seat of government.
The LRB ruled in late 2021 that applying the code to the constables would not impede the legislative assembly’s ability to carry on its constitutional functions. The legislative assembly argued that parliamentary privilege prevailed due to the necessity to protect the assembly and members at all times.
Ellwood noted that the LRB “was not persuaded of another method by which special constables could exercise their constitutional right to collective bargaining.
“The privilege claimed by the assembly would exclude all of the provisions of the Code, including the duty to negotiate in good faith and the unfair labour practice provisions, regardless of whether the parties agreed to negotiate under a voluntary recognition model,” Ellwood wrote.
In 2019, constables working for the Legislative Assembly Protective Services (LAPS) division of the Office of the Sergeant-at-Arms formed the Legislative Assembly Protective Services Association (LAPSA) and applied for Labour Code certification.
LAPSA and the all-party Legislative Assembly Management Committee (LAMC) both agreed to put the application on hold while they negotiated a collective agreement. But talks broke off and LAPSA resumed the certification bid in May 2020. A majority of LAMC members are NDP MLAs. The committee’s chair is Speaker Raj Chouhan, who helped establish the Canadian Farmworkers Union and formerly directed bargaining for the Hospital Employees’ Union.
Edward Illi, who was elected president of the union, was put on administrative leave in August 2020 and fired in December 2020, just four days before the LRB originally agreed that parliamentary privilege applied. He was a respondent with the LRB against the legislative assembly’s petition.
At the start of February 2021, union members voted to dissolve the association. Illi filed an application with the LRB a month later, alleging unfair labour practice.
“I do not agree with the assembly that the board ‘subordinated’ parliamentary privilege to the Charter rights of the special constables. Rather, the board found that the assembly had not made out its case for a privilege based on the governing law, which required consideration of those rights,” the judge wrote.
The B.C. decision came five years after the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2018 ruling on a case in Quebec, that found the national assembly’s speaker could not use parliamentary privilege to avoid the grievances of three fired security guards.
“The Code is the only existing statutory scheme by which the special constables can access an enforceable process of collective bargaining,” Ellwood wrote.
At a meeting in July, LAMC announced the beginning of a transition to what Clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd called “a new hybrid model of layered security.” The first group of 10 unarmed safety officers was brought in for orientation and training.
The move came three years after Alan Mullen, the chief of staff to Speaker Darryl Plecas from 2017 to 2020, had recommended transforming LAPS into a security department with unarmed officers. His report determined LAPS officers were overqualified and the department’s police force model was not necessary when compared to day-to-day operational requirements.
Mullen found that the force protecting just 5.9 hectares was costing taxpayers $5 million a year and had become more expensive than the police forces in Victoria suburbs Oak Bay and Central Saanich.