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New Federal Labour and Human Rights Legislation

28-Jun-13

June 28, 2013

By Tom Ross and Iain Bailey

There were two significant developments regarding federal labour and human rights legislation on June 26, 2013:

Human Rights Developments

Bill C-304, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act (protecting freedom), received royal assent. Principally, the Act repeals section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Section 13 was designed to combat acts of discrimination propagated by telephonically transmitted hate speech, which included—as the primary focus in recent years—the internet. Under section 13, it was:

“...a discriminatory practice for a person or a group of persons acting in concert to communicate telephonically or to cause to be so communicated, repeatedly ... any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.”

While the dividing line between freedom of speech and hate propaganda can be grey, many critics found the wording of section 13—especially the word “likely”—to be ambiguous, especially in comparison to the coexisting Criminal Code sanctions against hate speech.

Therefore, it will now fall exclusively to the criminal law to deal with the censorship of internet hate speech. The Act will come into force on June 26, 2014. This is a positive development in removing dubious claims from the Human Rights process and leaving them to the criminal justice system, with its due process protections.

Labour Law Developments

Bill C-377, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations), did not have such a positive outcome on June 26. This Act was designed to increase the transparency of labour organization finances by making additions to section 149 of the Income Tax Act. The bill as passed by the House of Commons would have required unions to publicly disclose any expenses of $5,000 or more, in addition to the salaries of any union employees exceeding $100,000 per year.

In an act of unusual defiance, the Canadian Senate (including a large contingent of Conservative Senators) made significant amendments to the bill at the final hour which make the legislation effectively useless. They increased the proposed mandatory disclosure of union expenses from $5,000 to more than $150,000, in addition to increasing the mandatory salary disclosure from $100,000 to $444,000. Further, the Senate specified that the bill would now only apply to unions with 50,000 members or more.

As Parliament is now adjourned for the summer, the amendments will sit until the fall before returning to the House of Commons, where the government can either accept them, ignore them and send the same legislation back to the Senate a second time, or drop the matter altogether. Parliamentary convention dictates that the Senate will likely bend to the will of the House of Commons should the bill pass again in original form. Time will tell.

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