VANCOUVER – British Columbia’s government has been ordered by a judge to hand over confidential cabinet documents to the provincial teachers’ union in advance of a September trial disputing the constitutionality of some back-to-work legislation.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Susan Griffin said in a ruling posted online Wednesday that the legal process is designed to be fair, and fairness in this case requires the government to hand over the documents to the BC Teachers Federation.
Doing so also gives the teachers’ union the same opportunity to challenge the government as the government has to challenge the union, the judge added.
“I conclude that the public interest in disclosing the documents at issue in the context of the litigation is greater than any public interest in maintaining the secrecy of all or a portion of any of the documents,” said Griffin.
Public respect for government institutions also increases when relevant government records in such legal cases are produced and made transparent, she said.
However, Griffin has imposed some tight restrictions on the use of the information and ordered the teachers’ union not to use the documents outside the context of the court action.
The union declined to comment on the legal victory.
The statement from the Ministry of Education said that because the matter is before the courts, it would be inappropriate for the Minister of Education to comment on the legal action.
The case dates back to June 2012 when the teachers’ union filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court, arguing the government’s back-to-work legislation breached teachers’ charter rights to collective bargaining.
Both sides had been locked in a bitter labour dispute that overshadowed much of the school year and teachers refused to perform administrative duties like writing report cards. They also conducted a three-day strike.
As part of its preparations for the September 2014 trial, the union took the government to court, hoping to force it to give up several cabinet documents.
But the government argued that cabinet documents are privileged and that there was “an expectation of confidentiality generally with respect to cabinet documents.”
The government also claimed there was a public interest in maintaining that confidentiality.
However, the teachers’ union did not get all the documents it wanted.
Griffin ruled the government did not have to produce all or portions of about one dozen documents because they were not relevant.