Parliament is being warned a “Trojan Horse” labour bill is illegal and will be struck down by the courts if passed.
Bill C-377 that compels unions to disclose confidential data violates 146 years of Canadian practice, a constitutional expert told a Senate committee studying the measure.
“If Bill C-377 is passed by Parliament it will be declared unconstitutional and of no force and effect by the courts,” said Professor Bruce Ryder, of the Osgood Hall Law School faculty.
The Senate committee on trade and commerce opened hearings on the private Conservative bill that already passed the House of Commons on a 147 to 135 vote last Dec. 12.
“For once we have someone say outright it will be unconstitutional,” said Senator Larry Campbell (Liberal-B.C.). “The person who says it comes with very high qualifications. I just do not think this dog will hunt.”
Campbell continued, “It is our role to ensure that we do not pass laws that are unconstitutional; that is the difficulty that we are having here.”
The Act To Amend The Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations) requires that all unions publish senior officers’ salaries and benefits; lists of assets and liabilities; loans receivable; time and money spent on organizing activities; members’ pension payments over $5,000 and other data, under threat of $1,000-a day fines.
“It feels like it is using the Income Tax Act as a Trojan Horse to regulate unions,” testified Prof. Ryder; “The unprecedented detail of the disclosure obligations it places on labour organizations – and only on labour organizations – connects to no discernible tax policy issue or objective.”
Ryder noted that under the 1867 Constitution Act most labour issues are under provincial, not federal, jurisdiction.
“I am here to share the bad news that Bill C-377 is beyond the legislative jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada,” Ryder told senators.
In an interview, Ryder told Blacklock’s he considered it a “flawed bill” and poorly-drafted.
“The issue that stands out so starkly is this singling out of labour organizations for unprecedented scrutiny and an extraordinary degree of disclosure,” said Ryder; “I find it almost implausible.”
The Senate committee heard testimony that implementing the bill would cost the Canada Revenue Agency $11 million, with ongoing expenses of $2 million a year to collect and publish the financial accounts of the nation’s 14, 577 union locals.
By Tom Korski