Alberta Appeal Court upholds union contempt, tosses speech restriction

Alberta’s highest court has upheld a ruling that the province’s civil service union was in contempt for not obeying labour board directives during an illegal strike by prison guards.

EDMONTON — Alberta’s highest court has upheld a ruling that the province’s civil service union was in contempt for not obeying labour board directives during an illegal strike by prison guards.

But the Court of Appeal also says a previous ruling went too far when it ordered the Alberta Union of Public Employees to stop supporting the guards and tell them to go back to work.

“It would be difficult to conclude that the circumstances were so serious and dangerous as to justify limiting the right to freedom of expression,” says the Appeal Court ruling.

In April 2013, several guards walked off the job over safety concerns at Edmonton’s new remand centre and were soon joined by guards at several other jails. The Labour Relations Board quickly ordered them back to work. It said the union should not only tell the guards about that order, but advise them to obey it as well.

Those directives were filed in court and became court orders. A judge ruled that the union disobeyed those orders in comments to media and on its website.

“The tenor of the leadership’s statements was ’utter defiance,”’ says the Appeal Court’s summary of the judge’s comments.

The initial judge found the union guilty of civil contempt and imposed restrictions on what it could and couldn’t say.

Union leaders were no longer allowed to express solidarity with striking guards or publish their version of strike-related news. In addition, the union was ordered to publish a “clear and unambiguous” directive on its website that members should return to work.

The Appeal Court found that went to far. It noted that while the strike was short-lived, the court order was permanent. It also ruled there was no evidence the speech restrictions would get the workers back on the job.

“Lesser measures were called for than the measures ordered.”

Union president Guy Smith said the contempt finding may be appealed to the Supreme Court. But he welcomed removal of the speech restrictions.

“We’re very pleased that the court recognized the original court decision overstepped its bounds and basically gagged AUPE and its officers,” he said. “When you take away an organization’s rights to speak on behalf of its members, I think that should be concerning to all Albertans and Canadians.”

Smith said the union has paid about $350,000 in fines as a result of the strike.

Progress on the original issues that led to the walkout has been slow, but real, he added.

“There’s been some improvement. There seems to be a bit more commitment.”

Smith said he has no regrets about the union’s stance.

“It’s important to recognize we’re trying to rebuild a very broken relationship with the government, and that (strike) was one of the reasons it was broken. For that relationship to be rebuilt, there has to be some resolution to this and we need to move on and deal with the real issues of health and safety in worksites.”

Just Posted

Unemployment rate and EI beneficiaries down in Central Alberta

The unemployment rate for Red Deer region and the number of people… Continue reading

Insurers say Canadian weather getting hotter, wetter and weirder

Average number of days with heavy rain or snow across Canada has been outside norm since spring 2013

Women’s marches underway in Canadian cities, a year after Trump inauguration

Women are gathering in dozens of communities across the country today to… Continue reading

Red Deer councillor balks at city getting stuck with more funding responsibilities

Volunteer Central seeks municipal funding after being cut off by government

WATCH news on the go: Replay Red Deer Jan. 21

Watch news highlights from Red Deer and Central Alberta

Two Canadians, two Americans abducted in Nigeria are freed

Kidnapping for ransom is common in Nigeria, especially on the Kaduna to Abuja highway

WATCH news on the go: Replay Red Deer Jan. 21

Watch news highlights from Red Deer and Central Alberta

Liberals quietly tap experts to write new paternity leave rules

Ideas include creating an entirely new leave benefit similar to one that exists in Quebec

Insurers say Canadian weather getting hotter, wetter and weirder

Average number of days with heavy rain or snow across Canada has been outside norm since spring 2013

Are you ready for some wrestling? WWE’s ‘Raw’ marks 25 years

WWE flagship show is set to mark its 25th anniversary on Monday

VIDEO: Thousands join women’s march events across B.C.

Today marks one year since the first Women’s March on Washington

In photos: Get ready for Western Canadian Championships

Haywood NorAm Western Canadian Championships and Peavey Mart Alberta Cup 5/6 start… Continue reading

WATCH: Red Deer city council debates cost-savings versus quality of life

Majority of councillors decide certain services are worth preserving

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month