Looking Back VII: The 1987 General Strike

  • August 01, 2017

In an earlier instalment of this series (October 2016), I noted BC’s contentious labour history and suggested that the first real strike was in 1838, when the crew of the Beaver downed tools. In 1987, a rather more spectacular event occurred: a province-wide general strike. 

The government’s response was to issue a writ seeking a civil injunction to prevent a repetition of the strike. The wording of the writ was (forgive the pun) striking.

In framing it, counsel borrowed from the sedition provisions of the Criminal Code, seeking, for example, to enjoin anyone from advocating the use of force, including advocating “study sessions... as a means of accomplishing governmental change.” The writ also sought to enjoin “showing Her Majesty has been misled or mistaken in her measures” or “pointing out errors in the government of the province.” Remarkably, the latter, if done in good faith, are actually defences to being presumed seditious under the Code. The BC Supreme Court judge who heard the case doubted whether many of the actions set out in the endorsement constituted force. Meredith, J. also doubted whether the government could substitute civil process for criminal prosecution in this way. 

But he did not need to decide these questions because, between the writ and the statement of claim, someone seems to have reconsidered: the statement of claim contained “no allegation or hint of the charges” in the endorsement. The defendants therefore moved to strike the endorsement and dismiss the action – a motion that the judge granted. He also ordered costs “on a solicitor/client scale” because “the defendants should be entitled to as complete an indemnity... as I am at liberty to order.” 

In 1987, the Charter had been in force for five years. Yet the endorsement was an attempt to convert political protest into a type of civil sedition. One therefore wonders: What were they thinking?

Further reading: BC (AG) v. Georgetti, [1987] BCJ No. 1197 and BCJ No. 3117.