All clap, no penalty: Noisy strikers at Vancouver-area hotels didn’t violate injunction, rules court

Protestors with megaphones and whistles. Photo: Getty Images Signature/Canva

Who needs drums and megaphones when you’ve got loud voices and plastic handclappers?

Striking hotel workers in Richmond, B.C., have proven they can “make some noise” for their cause without violating the law, according to a recent court ruling.

The Supreme Court of British Columbia denied a request for an interim injunction sought by a group of hotel owners who argued that striking workers were creating an “actionable nuisance” through excessive noise on the picket lines.

The hotel owners — Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel and Hilton Vancouver Airport — filed an application on July 7, 2023, stating that workers from the defendant union, Unite Here Local 40, were producing noise that violated city bylaws. They sought a court order to limit specific activities and the volume of noise on the picket lines.

The request for an injunction led to a hearing on Aug. 2, 2023, where both parties agreed on a set of conditions, which included restrictions on the use of sirens, air horns, blow horns, whistles, and other loud devices. These restrictions were partly modeled on previous orders involving the union, and were set in line with a City of Richmond bylaw.

However, the employers alleged that the union and its vice-president, GG, had failed to comply with the terms of the injunction. They claimed that noise levels had exceeded 75 dBA on various dates in August, as recorded by their security personnel. As a result, they sought to hold the respondents in contempt of court and requested additional enforcement measures.

In response, the union provided an affidavit from MM, a union organizer, stating that the union had advised picketers about necessary changes and had ceased using prohibited instruments. MM also referred to a 2019 acoustic report that indicated some noise-making devices could be used without violating the court order, provided they were not used excessively.

GG, in her affidavit, countered the employers’ claims by stating that the noise measurements taken by the security guards were not taken from the stipulated distance of 6.1 meters. She also mentioned that efforts had been made to comply with the injunction, including instructing picketers to cease the use of megaphones, horns, and other loud instruments.

The court, in its ruling, concluded that the evidence did not support the employers’ claim that any terms of the injunction had been violated in the manner alleged. While acknowledging that the noise levels at times were close to the stipulated 75 dBA limit, it found insufficient proof to establish a breach of the injunction.

“Although it is clear that the picketers have regularly been generating noise in excess of 75 dBA, that, by itself, is not what is enjoined,” the Supreme Court of British Columbia said in the ruling. “The primary source of that noise appears to be their voices and their use of plastic hand-clappers, neither of which are specifically enjoined at any level.”

The court’s final decision stated that the application for further action against the union must be refused, and both parties would bear their own legal costs.

It noted that the union had skated “perilously close to the line” of violating the injunction, but that the employers failed to prove a breach beyond a reasonable doubt. (That comment was made by the court in relation to the use of a drum on Aug. 9 and a megaphone on Aug. 3.)

For more information, see Richmond Inn Hotel Ltd. v Unite Here Local 40, 2023 BCSC 1550 (CanLII)