CARPAY: Charter freedoms of public servants at stake in Newfoundland human rights case
Does government have to respect the fundamental Charter freedoms of public servants?
This question has been put before the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, arising from a dispute between Desirée Dichmont and the province’s Human Rights Commission.
Born in 1926, Desirée Dichmont served as a pilot in World War II, one of a very small number of women to do so. After the War, she spent many years ministering to people on leper colonies in Africa, before moving to Newfoundland, where she was a school teacher and community volunteer.
She received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal, and later the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for her spirit of service. In December 1997, at the age of 71, she sought and received an appointment as a marriage commissioner.
In 2004, the definition of marriage was changed to include same-sex unions. Based on her beliefs about the meaning, nature and purpose of marriage, Ms. Dichmont was not able to solemnize same-sex weddings. Considering the large number of marriage commissioners that are available in Newfoundland (and all Canadian provinces) to perform same-sex weddings, the conscience of Ms. Dichmont posed no threat to the availability of this service to same-sex couples.
Nevertheless, the government forced Ms. Dichmont to resign from a very meaningful means of public service in which she took great pride and pleasure, and for which she received only a very modest income.
Governments and other authorities accommodate the special needs of public servants all the time, for example by helping members of the public to find a Punjabi-speaking doctor, or a lawyer who specializes in family law, or a marriage commissioner willing to preside at an outdoor wedding on the shore of a lake.
Even before the age of computers and internet, the public could access different kinds of services from various different providers, understanding that not every professional can provide every service. Today’s technology makes this easier than ever before. Computer databases and online registries allow service-providers of every kind to inform the public about what they will and will not do, and when and where and how, and so on.
There is no evidence that accommodating Ms. Dichmont would hurt the provision of same-sex marriage ceremonies in the province. The government’s approach, to strip Ms. Dichmont of her license, was driven not by any practical need, but by an ideology of intolerance.
Essentially, the government declared that citizens must agree with the current definition of marriage (it may change again, let’s not forget) or else forfeit the right to serve people as a marriage commissioner. How will this intolerance play itself out when Canada’s progressive courts change the legal definition of marriage to include polygamy? Will marriage commissioners be stripped of their license if they disagree with polygamy and are unwilling to unite three, four or more people into one marriage?
The Human Rights Commission was of no help to Ms. Dichmont. In court, it supports the position that accommodating Ms. Dichmont’s religious beliefs would cause the government to breach its duty of neutrality.
It’s true that governments must be neutral, by not promoting any one religious or political perspective. Governments can achieve the goal of neutrality without forcibly imposing neutrality on each and every individual public servant. Governments can provide services to the public while still respecting diversity amongst government employees.
As a government authority, the RCMP cannot be for or against any religion. But individual RCMP officers can adhere to and practice the religion of their choice, including a religion that requires wearing identifiable clothing. The fact that police officers act “as government” nearly all the time does not prevent accommodating Muslim or Sikh police officers’ religious beliefs requiring a hijab or turban.
When a court challenge was brought against turbans in the RCMP, the judge wrote: “In the case of interaction between a member of the public and a police officer wearing a turban, I do not see any compulsion or coercion on the member of the public to participate in, adopt or share the officer’s religious beliefs or practices.”
Sadly, Ms. Dichmont passed away before the legal system would grant her justice. Her Estate now pursues a ruling in court, which will impact the fundamental Charter freedoms of all public servants who are directly or indirectly employed by government.
Lawyer John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF.ca), which intervened in Estate of Desirée Dichmont v. Human Rights Commission of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The massive blizzard that pummelled St. John’s NL and the surrounding area has left many Newfoundlanders stuck in their homes and worrying about how the snow will be removed.
Social media has been all abuzz about the shocking photos coming in from Newfoundland showing just how dire the situation is.
Many photos have been shared that show completely snowed-in doorways.
Twitter user Lacey Caroline said, “I’m really not sure how you begin to clear our street.”
CBC reports that there are “more than 70 centimetres of new snow on the ground in some areas, and strong winds piling up drifts and creating white out conditions, roads were likely to remain treacherous.”
Currently, workers are attempting to restore power for about 21,000 customers in the province.
According to the Canadian Red Cross, 2019 was an unusually bad year in Atlantic Canada for accidents such as drownings and house fires.
The organization notes that residential fires have claimed the lives of at least 24 people in 2019 across the Atlantic provinces.
CTV reported that Nova Scotia saw at least twelve deaths due to fire-related incidents, while New Brunswick saw nine. Both P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador had two fire-related deaths
A single house fire in Halifax claimed the lives of seven children in February. They were children in a family of immigrants who moved to Canada from Syria.
In 2019, Atlantic Canada had about 34 deaths that were water-related. One of the incidents took the lives of seven men who crash landed into a lake while flying in a float plane last July. The plane was on route to a fishing lodge in Labrador.
Apart from the plane crash, Newfoundland and Labrador saw at least eight more water-related deaths in 2019
There were 14 reported water-related deaths in Nova Scotia, P.E.I saw four and New Brunswick saw one.
A woman claims that a Liberal staffer grabbed her and forced her to leave a campaign event after she confronted the prime minister with a question.
April Halley was at a St. John’s, N.L. campaign stop when she asked the prime minister to discuss women’s incarceration issues.
One woman, who is not a member of the media, took it into her own hands to ask the PM about sexual assaults in prisons.
Didn’t catch the first part of her questioning but she stormed to the front by a reporter.
She was escorted out after. @VOCMNEWS #cdnpoli #nlpoli pic.twitter.com/g5nzJGX6c4— Ben Murphy (@BenMurphy590) September 17, 2019
Halley told The Post Millennial that she approached the prime minister for an answer about Corrections Canada’s decision to allow biological men who identify as women to be held in women’s prisons.
“Corrections previous policy stated that only a male who had surgically altered his genitals could be housed in a women’s prison, Trudeau’s change (which eventually became Bulletin 584) made it so all a man has to do is say he is a woman and he can be housed in a women’s correctional facility,” said Halley.
“We make sure that Corrections Canada keeps the safety of all prisoners at the top of mind every step of the way. We do that with a way that’s consistent with the charter of rights and freedoms,” said Trudeau in response to the question.
“There are rapists in women’s prisons and you personally forced it,” says Halley during the press conference.
Shortly after the encounter, one member of the audience could be seen escorting the woman out of the room.
“His staff were unnecessarily aggressive, his staff member repeatedly grabbed me. This was totally uncalled for because when they asked me to leave the building I began to so quietly and without protest,” said Halley.
“The behaviour of the male Liberal staff member was abhorrent.”
Perry Trimper, a cabinet minister for Newfoundland and Labrador, issued a statement Friday “acknowledging the hurt caused by his statements and saying he is stepping down as environment minister, effective immediately,” reports The Canadian Press.
The resignation came one day after a recording was released wherein Trimper can be heard accusing the Innu of Labrador of being prone to playing “the race card” to get what they want. He was immediately accused of racial profiling and subsequently stepped down. Liberal Premier Dwight Ball accepted his resignation.
“My government values the relationship with the Innu Nation,” writes Ball, “and holds the Innu Nation in the highest respect.”
The recording is from a voicemail message to the Innu nation about vehicle registration, but the controversial part came after Trimper failed to hang up the phone properly and the Innu were able to hear his private, personal thoughts on the issue.
“They’re accusing us of having bias on motor vehicle registration,” said Trimper, “saying that people taking the test don’t have adequate translators, and it’s their God-given right to have adequate translation.”
Someone else in the room then say, “You can’t have it all in every language. … They have a feeling of entitlement.”
“And the race card comes up all of the time,” Trimper continues. “I’ve been working 30 years with you guys, don’t play that on me.”
Trimper’s blunder immediately sparked shock and outrage, with many coming out to condemn Trimper and defend the government’s stance on indigenous issues and relations, saying that his comments are not representative of government.
Trimper also issued an apology and says he’ll work to repair relations from outside his former cabinet position.
“I regret that I said these words,” Trimper told St. John’s radio station VOCM. “I need to apologize, and I want to apologize. … Those words don’t reflect me. I drifted away from the person I aspired to be.”
Ball says that Trimper showed genuine remorse for what he said.