OTTAWA, ON September 27, 2012 (CCRL) – Two issues of longstanding interest to the League are on the agenda as Parliament begins its Fall session.  Stephen Woodworth’s motion to commence a parliamentary study on whether our current Criminal Code provisions about when life begins are in keeping with modern medical knowledge was defeated September 26, but it’s quite likely there will be other efforts to restore respect for life.  (Motion 312 defeated but debate will continue, says CCRL, Sept. 26.) And efforts to give union members greater religious and conscientious freedom in the use of their mandatory dues, a principle the League has always supported, are coming under greater scrutiny.

Private member’s Bill C-377, introduced by MP Russ Hiebert, passed second reading in March and is now before the House Standing Committee on Finance. Among other provisions, it would require unions to disclose how much money they spend on political activities. Up to now, no such requirement has existed, and the League has assisted several Catholic union members in their efforts to protest the use of their dues to lobby for such changes as same sex marriage and support for abortion rights.

While both those issues have been catalysts for efforts to create a greater say for members in the use of their dues, new impetus came during the recent Quebec election when it emerged that the Public Service Alliance of Canada had supported several separatist candidates. It’s unlikely that the federal government employees who make up PSAC are supportive of the separatist movement, particularly those living in Quebec. In the wake of this support by PSAC, Pierre Poilievre, a Conservative MP from the Ottawa area, has stated that he is considering introducing new legislation allowing workers to opt out of paying dues if they choose not to be part of the union. (Under Canadian law, workers in unionized shops must continue to pay dues even if they choose to withdraw from the union.)

Even where a collective agreement spells out a provision for diversion of dues to charity for religious reasons, attempts to do so are rarely successful and are usually limited to those whose religions forbid unionization. Employees the League has helped in their effort to use the provision are Catholics who object to the use of their dues to actively support causes, such as same sex marriage and abortion rights, that are in direct conflict with Catholic teaching.  

The League does not claim any expertise in whether the right to opt out of unionization, or the use of conscientious objection clauses or some other provision, is the best way to encourage religious freedom in the use of mandatory dues. But the principle is an important one, and it requires both legislative initiatives and the active involvement of union members. The League will continue to support Catholic union members in related efforts.

–    Union support of political causes is under the gun, Catholic Register, September 16, 2012