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1995 CMG Supreme Court Win Offers Lessons in Fight Against ‘Tandem’
•  Posted on  April 29, 2021  

Victory was a boost to union leaders and their right to speak out

By Lise Lareau

The dispute over CBC’s branded content initiative ‘Tandem” has led many journalists at the public broadcaster to wonder how vocal they can be in their opposition to the controversial plan.  Some good answers lie in a CMG victory at the Supreme Court of Canada 26 years ago.

The 1995 Court decision affirmed that journalists who are also union leaders at the CBC have the right to take public positions without fear of violating internal policies on objectivity.

Dale Goldhawk reading an announcement into the radio mic

Dale Goldhawk, host of CBC’s Cross Country Checkup. (Photo courtesy of CBC)

The case involved Dale Goldhawk who was the host of CBC’s Cross Country Checkup in 1988. Free trade was the hot issue of the federal election campaign that year and Goldhawk wrote an article in the union newsletter urging members to oppose the deal.   The CBC questioned whether Goldhawk could still be objective on the issue as host of the radio show, and it forced him to choose between his union position and his radio job.

Goldhawk chose to keep his CBC job.  But his union fought back on his behalf.

At the time, Goldhawk was president of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists  (ACTRA).  When the Guild won a bargaining unit amalgamation vote in 1993, it gained the right to represent everyone in broadcast and production jobs at the CBC.  As a result, the CMG took over the ACTRA members and the Goldhawk case.

In the Goldhawk case, the union side argued that the CBC’s ultimatum to Goldhawk amounted to interference in a trade union and an unfair labour practice under the Canada Labour Code.  In 1992, the Canada Labour Relations Board agreed. But the CBC countered that the Labour Board had no jurisdiction over matters of the Corporation’s journalistic policy and appealed to Canada’s top court.

Dale Goldhawk at the end of the court case

Dale Goldhawk. (Photo courtesy of CBC)

The Supreme Court agreed with the Labour Board and the Guild in an 8-1 ruling. “As for the journalistic policy of the CBC itself, this document does not enjoy the status of legislation. It is an internal management directive promulgated by the CBC based on its own interpretation of its obligations under the Broadcasting Act….Even the most admirable policy cannot permit an employer to amend unilaterally the scope of union rights provided by statute,” wrote Mr. Justice J. Iacobucci. 

CMG’s lawyer Sean FitzPatrick of the labour law firm Cavalluzzo summed up the Goldhawk decisions this way: “The Supreme Court upheld the Labour Board’s finding that an employer’s policies, including the journalistic practices policies of news employers, cannot interfere with an employee’s  right to belong to and be active in their union, and to make public statements in their capacity as union officials.”

Fitzpatrick says it comes down to this:  Management cannot direct an employee who has a union role on what they can and cannot say publicly in that role as a union official. If you are a union official, you are free to speak out about issues relevant to that role, such as issues in the collective agreement or which will be addressed in collective bargaining or are being promoted by the union or the union movement. However, in the case of journalists, management might take into consideration what an employee who is a union official has said publicly when it is deciding on work assignments to try to avoid having them cover a story on which they have taken a public stand.

Lise Lareau worked as a news producer at the CBC for 35 years and was president of the CMG from 2000-2010.

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