Tuesday, April 27, 1999
Diane Francis Financial Post
We should have the freedom to work wherever we can
Individuals, businesses and organizations should consider making contributions to an important new cause which could change the face of Canada’s economy for the better.
Gatineau, Que., contractor Jocelyn Dumais deserves support because he has spent the past six years fighting for worker rights in Quebec. Last week the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear his landmark test case which means his cause now involves a fight for the rights of all Canadian workers. This pits Dumais against the country’s union bosses.
« If we win this, anyone who’s in a union will be able to resign if they wish. The dues are another matter, » said Dumais’ lawyer Julius Grey. « This is one of the major civil liberties cases which will be heard [by the Supreme Court] this year. It’s an essential issue. »
The case involves the « freedom of association » section of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Dumais argues that just as people have a right to associate, they have a right NOT to be forced to associate, as is the case in unionized workplaces.
« Freedom of association includes freedom from association. This has never been decided, » said Grey.
However, the Court was sympathetic to Grey’s arguments along these lines in a case involving Robert Libman, who was leader of the Equality Party at the time in Quebec, and the referendum law. Libman and Grey won that case in the fall of 1997 and the law was set aside because it imposed a form of « forced association that the court found was not acceptable, » said Grey.
That referendum law required anyone who wanted to campaign to be approved and financed by either the « Yes » committee or the « No » committee set up by the separatist government. The Equality Party was virtually excluded by « No » committee members who were Liberal Party members. Similarly this case involves the trampling of civil rights by the Quebec government.
For decades, Quebec has fined and, ultimately, sent people to jail for the crime of working. Any construction tradesman living in Quebec must belong to one of its militant construction unions (which are run by separatists), or else each one must obtain a special permit from the province. These permits are harder to obtain than Green Cards in the States. That’s the way the union bosses like the system to run. Quebec is a closed shop. Their closed shop.
But workplaces throughout Canada have the same problem. New workers joining a unionized company are routinely forced to join and pay dues. In some cases, a certain number of exemptions from union membership are negotiated in bargaining agreements. But most of Canada’s four million unionized workers really never got the choice of whether they wanted to be members or not. And if they opt out as members, that means other unions or associations can compete for their membership or the right to negotiate on their behalf.
Quebec’s laws have been the worst. That’s were the feisty and tenacious Dumais and his colleagues got involved. To fortify these laws, Quebec actually has « labour » police who routinely scour building sites looking for « illegals » — in other words workers who have chosen not to be in a union, or who have not obtained special permits.
Dumais once explained the nonsense that goes on to me in an interview a few years ago: « If you had 150 workers on any construction site in Quebec, I’d guess that half of them would be ‘illegals’ or working without the permit. We call the inspectors ‘boubou macout’ and run like crazy when they arrive. I have hidden in a dumpster for two hours to avoid being caught once. Imagine having to do that just so I can work? »
Dumais lived in other parts of Canada for many years before returning home to Quebec and a system he felt was unfair. After starting his cement contracting business in Gatineau, he was hit with fines of $35,985 for employing so-called « illegals » in 1991. He says transgressions are widespread because the laws are so unfair.
So he, like so many other Quebecers, began seeking contracts or work just across the border in Ontario. But here’s the other discriminatory aspect to Quebec’s labour laws: While Dumais and others could work in Ontario, Ontario contractors and workers were not allowed to earn any money in Quebec.
Even though he has been prospering doing work mostly in Ontario, his second strategy has been to lobby both Ontario and New Brunswick governments to convince them to retaliate against Quebec’s discriminatory labour laws in the hopes of forcing change. He and his associates drove down from Gatineau to Queen’s Park today to meet Ontario officials to push this agenda.
Dumais should be fully supported in this effort by Ontario legislators. He should also be fully supported, with donations, by Canadians from coast to coast.
Now they need money. They have financed the case to this point by building a house and donating their labour costs to the cause, plus they have gotten donations from several business organizations and their legal defence funds. Dumais and his organization can be contacted at the e-mail address meritqc@adat
This is a landmark case and could finally break the monopoly power of the union bosses who have been responsible for bankrolling with worker dues the ruinous policies of the NDP and Parti Quebecois to the detriment of this country’s economy. We need unions, but they should have to compete, be accountable to workers, or face rejection.
But politics and unionism aside, Dumais makes the best case of all: « I am a Canadian and I want the freedom to work wherever and whenever I can. »