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BCTF: 'We are putting the government on notice'

Chilliwack teachers prepare for the possibility of an illegal walkout, or a full withdrawal of extra-curricular activities.

Chilliwack students were given a reprieve on extra-curricular activities run by teachers Wednesday, but the programs are still in jeopardy.

Following the BC Teachers' Federation annual general meeting, which had a showing of nearly 700 members, president Susan Lambert presented an action plan that could see extra-curricular activities scrapped by mid April.

"Bill 22 was intended to rob us of our voice," said Lambert at a press conference.

With this action plan, "we are putting the government on notice. We are looking at the government to rethink its position."

A province-wide vote of the union's membership will be held on April 17 and 18, where teachers will vote on whether to begin a withdrawal of all voluntary extra-curricular activities.

Chilliwack Teachers' Association president Katharin Midzain said a work-to-rule mandate is a very real possibility. It's one of the only bargaining chips teachers have, she said.

"Other public sectors can refuse overtime as part of job action, but our overtime is our volunteer work," said Midzain. "It's the only thing we have in our arsenal."

And while Midzain is sympathetic to the upset it could cause students, she said the long-term impact of Bill 22 has to be considered.

"Will one elementary basketball season ruin a child's life? No," she said. "But will having 30 kids in a class, plus as many unlimited students with diverse needs and no support affect their lives? Absolutely. And it will affect them every day and every year they're in school."

Still, Gord Byers, president of Chilliwack District Parents' Advisory Council is concerned the most marginalized students in the district will suffer without extra-curricular activities.

"This is stuff that keeps some kids involved and in school and doing good in school," he said. "If teachers work to rule, are students who need help at lunch or after school going to get the help they need, or are they going to be left hanging?"

Some teacher associations in other school districts have already withdrawn from extra-curricular activities, and the union has advised teachers not to start any new activities.

The union will also be voting on a full withdrawal of services, despite the threat of heavy fines.

"Teachers are angry and have a strong sense we need to be demonstrative about our anger and frustration with a government that chooses a path this government has taken," said Midzain.

"We have an action plan and we are going to fight [Bill 22], but I don't know what that's going to look like. That depends on the membership."

If the union does engage in an illegal walkout, it will be subjected to a minimum fine of $1.3 million dollars a day; local unions will be subjected to a minimum of $2,500 a day; and individual teachers will face fines up to $475 a day.

If they do not pay the first day, they will be held in civil contempt, and if they continue not to pay, they will be held in criminal contempt.

"It's frightening," said Midzain. "I honest to God don't know what these next months are going to be."

The BCTF will also be mounting a legal challenge to the Bill 22 legislation, which was passed by the Liberal government last week.

In light of all this, teachers will be preparing end-of-year report cards, but will not be writing retroactive report cards.