By Sara Marett
Ontario's teachers' federations won a small victory yesterday as an Ontario Court failed to provide the provincial government with a court injunction to send 126,000 striking teachers back to the classroom.
Judge James MacPherson announced he would not grant a back-to-work injunction as the government's application was "significantly premature" and they did not prove in court that the strike was causing "irreparable harm" to the public.
The injunction was sought after by the Harris government beginning last Wednesday. The teachers' federations and the government then went to court Friday until Saturday night to present their opposing sides. Judge MacPherson told the two sides he would hold off on a ruling if they could settle matters amongst themselves.
Sunday morning, both sides met under a media blackout in a undisclosed location in Toronto to try and work things out. Yesterday morning, Judge MacPherson announced the court would not give the government a back-to-work injunction and encouraged the two groups to continue their talks.
Ontario's teachers are now heading into their second week of protest over Bill 160 which includes reform to areas such as class size, less preparation time and increased teaching time for teachers, control of education tax rates and replacing some teachers with non-certified professionals.
Education Minister Dave Johnson said he was very disappointed with the ruling as it means ongoing inconvenience for parents and the lack of schooling for students. Regarding the judge's decision that the strike was not causing irreparable harm, Johnson said he does not want to reach this point. "We don't think any kind of harm caused by an illegal strike is justifiable," he said in a televised news conference.
Johnson added meetings between the unions and the government are ongoing and he hopes the unions will put forth amendments to the Bill before the legislative deadline on Wednesday.
"The Attorney General is disappointed with the decision and very concerned about the consequences facing Ontario children," said attorney general press secretary Barry Wilson.
"As always in these cases, the Ministry officials will be reviewing the decision in the days to come," Wilson said. He added it was premature to speculate on what the next step will be for the government.
Ontario Teachers' Federation president Eileen Lennon said yesterday in a press release the court decision confirmed the government does not have a monopoly on defending the public interest, she said.
"It is clearer today than ever that Bill 160 will not improve education. It still shifts control from communities to the Cabinet. Bill 160 will radically alter the structure of education and it is still on the table," Lennon said.
In London, the Board of Education plans to study the wording of the court's decision. Approximately two per cent of 3,000 London teachers were crossing the picket lines and reporting to work last week, said Judy Malfara, communications officer for the Board.