Schools close across Ontario as legality of strike debated
Published Thursday, January 10, 2013 8:09AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, January 10, 2013 11:10PM EST
Ontario school boards notified parents that schools would be closed Friday, preferring not to wait for a decision from the province’s Labour Relations Board on whether a teachers’ walkout would be illegal.
The board began hearing arguments around 3 p.m. Thursday, but by 11 p.m. it was still trying to come to a decision.
Peel District School Board is encouraging parents to check for updates tonight and Friday morning to find out whether schools will be open. The Toronto District School Board and Ottawa Carleton Board were among those who decided to close their schools regardless of the hearing’s outcome, saying there is not enough certainty about whether the schools will have adequate supervision for students.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty says the province is seeking an injunction to prevent the walkout, calling it an "illegal strike."
He says while the one-day walkout the teachers held in December was legal, Friday's scheduled walkout will be illegal because the province has now imposed two-year collective agreements.
He also urged teachers not to let the dispute affect students.
“I understand that we have some differences. I respect their right to give expression to those differences,” McGuinty told reporters on Thursday in Newmarket. “Let's leave the students out of it.”
For its part, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario insists it's not a strike at all. They’re calling it a one-day political protest that is protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
If the protest is ruled illegal and the teachers go ahead with it anyway, McGuinty wouldn't say whether the government would go after the teachers in court.
Individual teachers could be fined up to $2,000 for illegal strike action. But since 92 per cent of the union voted last month in favour of a one-day walkout, it seems they're willing to take the chance.
“We are going ahead with our day of protest we will deal with whatever comes over the next few days,” Elementary Teachers' Federation President Sam Hammond told reporters Wednesday.
He says the protest is what his 76,000 members want.
The ETFO said teachers will picket at schools, the Ministry of Education and the Toronto constituency offices of several MPPs, including Minister of Education Laurel Broten and Ontario Liberal leadership candidates Eric Hoskins and Kathleen Wynne.
No matter what you call the day of action, it’s left parents of young students scrambling. Some parents are planning to stay home from work to care for their children, while many daycares are planning to stay open all day to accommodate the children. But other parents, who don’t use daycares, are now rushing to make alternative child care arrangements.
Ottawa-area parent Vicky Edgecombe says she wishes the two sides would just resolve their differences.
“It's affecting the kids. It's affecting their education," she told CTV Ottawa.
Fellow parent Keely Davison says she’s irritated by the short notice that parents were given this time.
"It's always just juggling the schedules and trying to figure out how you're going to accommodate for your child, where they're going to be on Friday, what you're going to do about work," she said.
Still, Davison and her 11-year-old daughter Taya say they support the teachers.
“I think they have a right to strike because the government has taken away their rights to do things,” she said.
This most-recent job action was spurred when Education Minister Laurel Broten used Bill 115 to impose contracts on the thousands of teachers on Jan. 3 after the province’s school boards failed to reach an agreement on new contracts after a Dec. 31 deadline. The contracts imposed froze wages for two years and put an end to the banking of sick days to be used at retirement.
Friday will not be the end of the planned protests.
The province’s high school teachers announced late Wednesday they will hold a day of political protest on Jan. 16 if the government does not repeal Bill 115, rescind the imposed contracts and restore free collective bargaining.
"It is regrettable that the provincial government has chosen to continue down this path and not respect the rights of education workers," the union's president Ken Coran said in a news statement.
The teachers have already been boycotting extracurricular activities, in response to the legislation.
With a report from CTV Ottawa’s John Hua and CTV Toronto’s Zuraidah Alman