TORONTO, April 4, 2006 The Catholic Civil Rights League (www.ccrl.ca) today expressed its support for a federal government employee who is seeking federal judicial review of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunals refusal to hear her complaint in her unions refusal to permit her to divert mandatory dues to charity. In the application filed recently in federal court, Susan Comstock of Toronto asks that the court require the CHRC and the union to hear the application, or declare the Commissions findings invalid.
Mrs. Comstocks application was based on the unions direct activism in support of same sex marriage, which conflicts with the teachings of the Catholic Church. In its refusal, the CHRC stated that the complaints are beyond the jurisdiction of the Commission as no link to a prohibited ground of discrimination was established.
The League supports the complaint because the payment of mandatory union dues is one of the many areas where legislation in support of gay marriage creates problems for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience in the workplace.
Politicians have assured us that freedom of religion and freedom of conscience will be respected in the application of Bill C-38, said Mrs. Comstock. My experience suggests that these so-called protections can prove very limited for those who actually try to exercise them.
Mrs. Comstock, following her conversion to Catholicism, applied in October, 2004 to her employer, The Treasury Board of Canada, through provisions of its collective agreement with the Public Service Alliance of Canada, to have her dues diverted to her parish church because of the unions explicitly-stated policies of support for gay “marriage”, which included the provision of office space to a group lobbying the government to pass Bill C-38.
The Treasury Board of Canada refused the request in March, stating in part that such diversion is available only to those whose religions forbid the payment of dues to employee organizations. In appealing the decision to the Canadian Human Rights Commission on the grounds of religious discrimination, Mrs. Comstock noted that “this issue calls into question the assertion of (former) Justice Minister Cotler that religious freedoms will be protected (under Bill C-38). I understand that my application is the first of its kind. I know that many of my co-workers feel equally disenfranchised and are looking for help.”
The Human Rights Commission investigated the complaint, but in October, 2005 issued a decision not to proceed with it. The commission noted that the Catholic Church has no doctrine forbidding unionization, and that Mrs. Comstock was still free to raise concerns at union meetings, speak freely about her views, or formally withdraw from the union while still being required to pay dues. In her response, she noted that she had already made ample use of the first two options, and that the third is a non-solution since it would still require her money to support a cause hostile to Catholic teaching.
If the federal court upholds the CHRC’s decision, the only realistic hope for the thousands of union members seeking a dues diversion based on union advocacy for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered issues would be a change in provincial and federal labour laws addressing the issue.
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.