TORONTO, May 29, 2008 – The Catholic Civil Rights League today expressed disappointment that the appeal of Susan Comstock, a League member who sought a diversion of mandatory union dues on conscientious grounds, has been unsuccessful.
The appeal, dismissed without costs by the Federal Court of Appeal immediately after four and a half hours of argument on May 28, comes after a four year struggle by Mrs. Comstock, a long time employee of the federal government. Through a provision of her collective agreement with the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), she had sought to divert her mandatory union dues to charity because of the union’s direct and active support for same sex “marriage,” and its zero tolerance policies against what it termed homophobia and heterosexism. In her application, she argued that this advocacy violated her conscience as a Roman Catholic and was therefore unacceptable.
Phil Horgan, president of the Catholic Civil Rights League, said that “PSAC by its advocacy has maintained that the collection of its union dues and support of contentious moral issues such as same sex marriage is more important than accommodating religious or conscientious objections of its members.” He added that the 130,000 members of PSAC, and indeed all unions, should take a greater interest in the activities of their union executives, including elections, and seek representatives who have a more balanced approach to contentious moral issues. A more recent example of such advocacy has been the union’s opposition to Bill C-484, proposing to amend the Criminal Code by acknowledging unborn victims of violence.
“Courts in Europe and the United States have been accommodating of the conscience rights of union employees by permitting such diverting of union dues. We had certainly hoped for a different result in this case. We commend Mrs. Comstock for bringing these issues forward, but we find it unfortunate that conscientious freedom in the workplace was not interpreted in a way that respects freedom of religion and freedom of conscience for the broadest spectrum of union membership.”
The League knows of similar cases that are now in progress, and will be watching them with interest. Mrs. Comstock has 60 days to decide on any further appeal.
In 2004 Comstock sought diversion of her union dues and was denied by her employer, the Treasury Board of Canada. She then brought a human rights application at the federal level, which was turned down in March 2006. A judicial review was turned down in Federal Court in March, 2007. The refusals were based on an interpretation of the option of diverting union dues to charity, which makes it available only to those whose religions oppose employee organizations. Ms. Comstock sought to have the provision cover those who could demonstrate sincere conscientious objection to union policies.
Catholic Civil Rights League (www.ccrl.ca) assists in creating conditions within which Catholic teachings can be better understood, cooperates with other organizations in defending civil rights in Canada, and opposes defamation and discrimination against Catholics on the basis of their beliefs. CCRL was founded in 1985 as an independent lay organization. The Catholic Civil Rights League is a Canadian non-profit organization entirely supported by the generosity of its members.
For further information, or to arrange an interview with Mrs. Comstock, please call: Joanne McGarry, Executive Director, 416-466-8244; firstname.lastname@example.org.