There is a very big significance to Bill 115. The reason for this is because it was targeted at a population in society that is not typically known as the underdog. We are used to seeing dissent being criminalized when it has to do with a prison population, or a minority population. In this case freedom to protest was taken away from what one would consider as average citizens of society, teachers. This is very important to the study of criminalization of dissent because it shows that the state has no boundaries and will stop at nothing if they think someone is in their way to achieve their ultimate goals. As a public, we are used to the government criminalizing the actions of the minority, not of what is known as a well respected profession with a very strong union.
When the state tried to justify its actions to the public, the state used economic gains as the main argument to show Bill 115 in the positive light to society. The problem that rose in turn was that there was a disconnect between what the public saw the state was doing, what the state was doing, and how the teachers were attempting to retaliate. It seems like the public had a skewed vision of why the teachers wanted to strike, the common perception being that they want to strike because they are not going to get salary increases. In reality, teachers were trying to fight the fact that their legal rights as citizens were taken away, their right to strike. Media reports were probably the main catalysts behind the misrepresentation of what was going on, in some cases fuelling the already discontent of the public. Furthermore, because an average Joe does not necessarily look deeper into the issues of what Bill 115 stands for, and why teachers abstained from some duties, it shines a negative light on these public sector workers. The problem with this is that when children are involved tougher actions are always encouraged by the public for the government to implement. This is a win win situation for the state they have the public support in what they are doing and they are further suppressing the targeted group in this case, Ontario public school teachers.
The exercise of power that the liberal government has shown when they came out with Bill 115 clearly demonstrated authorization. Authorization is where there is certain regulation going on through law, auditing, and control of budgets (Rose & Valvarde 1998). It is a way to show authority through other means rather than policing. The authoritarian way that Rose and Valvarde (1998) describe in their article was seen when budget cuts and budget freezes were introduced to the Ontario public school board and primarily the unionized teachers. This authoritarian way is how the government out reached their own power and regulated the budget cuts and other aspects of the teacher’s contracts without the involvement of police.
Mike King (1997) talks about the complexity that comes along with understanding the Canadian police forces. There are so many different levels of policing that they are often seen executors of what the government needs done and established. The complexity and position of this institution, the police, reminds me of the role of the administration workers, especially the principals in the Ontario public school board played when Bill 115 was introduced. They were the middle people who were are not unionized therefore having to abide by the new laws that were established by the state, trying to make sure students get the best education, and persuading teachers to complete work up to par. The school community was broken down to an us versus them mentality, the school environment changing because now teachers and administration workers had different goals and instructions. This is typical in everyday society where citizen see the police as the enemy and not a fellow civil worker. Therefore, the role of school principals in this situation is comparable to the role of the Canadian Police Force in everyday conflicts as per Mike King.
When Bryan Palmer(2003) discusses the history of law and disobedience he mentions “…as it relates to civil disobedience, is an undertaking of law’s materialized discourse as well as acts of lawbreaking that either changed law or contributed to the development of new law” (p.468). The it, that he talks about is the historical meaning of the law. This statement demonstrates that the capitalism and power relations with the state have been ingrained in law, and that history is repeating itself. When Bill 115 was introduced, the wage freeze angered teachers, the government expected a strike therefore they created an-anti strike law to curb civil disobedience. The government went as far as declaring it a criminal act if teachers strike. What is interesting is that even if teachers did strike “illegally” what would be the consequence? Would the Ontario government take away licenses from all the teachers involved and create new job opportunities and bigger budget savings from a newly hired army of teacher college graduates. Would they use coercive force as was seen in many other acts of protest like the G20 summit. Or is it just an empty threat to create a state of fear and panic? Interestingly, we would never know what would have happened if teachers were to strike. Furthermore, not only does the criminalization of dissent show the power of the state it transforms into social control. The government exercises its power not only on the teachers but on society itself, making it seem like the control that they are executing is better for the greater good of the nation. Therefore, social control is another big problem that teachers were facing aside from the criminalization of their dissent.
King, Mike. 1997. “Policing and Public Order Issues in Canada: Trends for Change.” Policing & Society 8: 47-75.
Palmer, Bryan D. 2003. “What’s Law Got to do With It? Historical Considerations on Class Struggle, Boundaries of Constraint and Capitalist Authority.” Osgoode Hall Law Journal 41: 465-90.
Rose, Nikolas and Mariana Valverde. 1998. “Governed by Law?” Social and Legal Studies 7(4):541-51.