On April 11, 2013, the Ontario Labour Relations Board decided that the withdrawal of voluntary extracurricular activities by teachers was an unlawful strike pursuant to the Ontario Education Act. Teachers in Ontario engaged in this action as a protest against certain government actions. At issue before the Board was whether the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the union representing the teachers, had declared or authorized an unlawful strike by advising its members not to participate in extracurricular activities.

The Board reviewed the legislative history of the definition of strike in the Education Act and found it did not convey a clear intent to exclude extracurricular activities from the definition. The Board then turned to interpreting the statutory definition of a strike. The definition required that the activity at issue interfere with the normal activities or operation of a program of a School Board.

Applying the language to the dispute, the Board found that extracurricular activities fell within the meaning of “normal activities” and/or the provision of a program of a school. By encouraging their members not to perform these activities, the ETFO had interfered with those activities, resulting in an unlawful strike. Regarding the extent of that interference, the Board noted that the statute does not require a high threshold of interference. Rather, all that is required is that there be interference to the normal activities or functioning of a program.

The Board referred to a 2012 letter decision of the BC Labour Relations Board on extracurricular activities in which the BC Board stated that the union had not authorized an unlawful strike by directing its members to refrain from participating in extracurricular activities. The Ontario Board noted that the BC decision was a “bottom-line” decision that provided no reasoning or analysis for its conclusion. As such it was of no assistance.

The Board concluded that the withdrawal of extracurricular activities constituted a strike within the broad wording of the Education Act, despite the fact that the activities were unpaid and voluntary. This finding relied upon the plain wording of the statute, reinforced by the fact that the education sector has a long history and expectation about teachers’ involvement in the delivery of these types of activities.

Trillium Lakelands District School Board v ETFO