VIU professor plans constitutional challenge

NANAIMO – Provincial legislation forced him to step down from the university's board of governors.

A Vancouver Island University professor plans to be part of a constitutional court challenge of provincial legislation that forced him to step down from the university’s board of governors last month.

Dominique Roelants, chief steward of the VIU Faculty Association, was advised May 17 by Mike Brown, board chairman, that he is no longer a member of the board due to an amendment to the University Act through Bill 18, which became law in March.

The amendment states that a member of a staff association’s executive body who takes part in negotiations with the board on behalf of the association, or adjudicates disputes regarding members of that employee group, is not eligible to be or remain a member of the board.

Roelants said the law violates his constitutional rights, which is why the provincial faculty association body, the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of B.C., plans to challenge it in B.C. Supreme Court.

“Bill 18 is just about preventing activists in the faculty association from being on the board, which is a denial of our freedom of association,” he said.

Roelants said he’s not sure the law even applies to him – while he is on the executive, he is not head of the contract negotiating committee and the Post Secondary Employers’ Association of B.C. is the bargaining agent for VIU, not the board.

While he advocates on behalf of faculty in disputes, he does not have the final say in a decision, Roelants added.

Advanced Education Minister Naomi Yamamoto was unavailable for comment, but stated during debate in the legislature that the amendment guards against conflict of interest.

Until now, Roelants said the board dealt with conflicts of interest by having a separate labour relations committee that excludes employee representatives and board members can excuse themselves when conflicts arise.

“There’s a lot of work the board does that is irrelevant in terms of faculty business,” he said.

The 15-member board of governors at VIU includes two faculty representatives elected by faculty members.

Brown said there was no option but to remove Roelants and announce a byelection.

“The law states that he is no longer eligible to be on the board,” he said.

Brown said the board has to approve any contract negotiated, so it is involved in negotiations.

Unlike general faculty members, members of the executive have a duty to represent the best interests of the union, which puts them in conflict with the university at times, Brown said.

Cindy Oliver, president of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of B.C., said the law is unprecedented in Canada and Roelants is one of three people the organization knows of who are affected.

“It’s complete nonsense,” she said. “This conflict of interest is such a weak argument – anyone could find themselves in conflict and there are processes to deal with it.”