THUNDER BAY – A court has issued a temporary injunction against the union representing striking Port Arthur Health Centre workers, ordering that a fence surrounding the perimeter of the building be removed and picketing not obstruct access to the clinic.
The decision by Superior Court Justice Helen Pierce late Wednesday afternoon came after an escalation in the labour dispute where a fence blocking the main doors was erected overnight and demonstrators prevented access to the property entrances, fulfilling a promise made by Unifor earlier this week to shut down the clinic.
A couple of hundred people were present for a late morning rally for the 65 health centre employees who have been on the picket lines since early April. Unifor also brought in available members from across Ontario and Manitoba, including a visit by national president Jerry Dias.
Health centre board chair Dr. Roy Allison, a general practitioner at the clinic for 43 years, told the court that police had indicated they had a plan to deal with the strike, but were unable or unwilling to ensure physicians and patients had access to the clinic.
Allison said the demonstration, which the union had provided public notice of in the preceding days, was more than just a rally, but rather a disruption of services and a disruption to the clinic’s patients.
Upon his arrival at the clinic early Wednesday morning, Allison was met with chants of “You won’t get in,” the doctor testified.
Health centre lawyer Derek Zulianello characterized Wednesday’s events as an “illegal blocking of the clinic,” also insisting the actions constituted criminal nuisance and trespassing.
Unifor lawyer Niki Lundquist, who was only given two hours of notice before the motion was presented in court, said the fence was put up for safety reasons as a result of the number of people expected to be at the rally.
Lundquist contested the health centre’s stance that a prolonged closure of the clinic would present irreparable harm, arguing it would not be the same as a hospital, ambulance or essential service shut down.
The court order directs the union to remove all fencing and obstructions, not obstruct access to the clinic by physicians, patients and others and to not picket on clinic property. Both sides are also encouraged to work together to develop a strike protocol.
Both sides are scheduled to appear in court again on Friday afternoon.