Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Confusing Compulsion for Freedom

The Toronto Sun reported yesterday that one of the reasons the Quebec student protests were so well-organized last spring is because the protesters were receiving financial help from unions across the country.

Canadian unions are well-known to give financial support to political causes—almost exclusively to those on the left side of the political spectrum. Many provinces in Canada, including Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia, have enacted legislation that forces even non-union members to pay union dues. And regardless of the wishes of the individuals forced to financially support them, unions are permitted to spend the money they collect to advance political causes that those same unwilling supporters oppose.

This issue was before the Supreme Court of Canada in the 1991 Lavigne v. Ontario Public Service Employees Union case. This case examined whether the Charter right to freedom of association prohibits the government from compelling individuals into associations against their will.

Lavigne was a teacher at a community college. His employment contract incorporated the so-called Rand Formula, which forced him to pay union fees regardless of whether he was a union member. The union then used Lavigne’s money to support the NDP and other political causes that he deeply opposed.

Once he became aware of this, Lavigne applied to get his money back so that it could not be used to further causes he considered unjust. His application was unsuccessful so he appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. The court’s decision was truly baffling.

Of the seven judges who heard the appeal, only three correctly held that freedom of association includes both a right to associate and a right to not associate. These three judges recognized that it’s just a matter of plain logic. If you are free to associate, you must also be free not to associate. That’s precisely what “free” means.

The remaining judges held that compulsory associations do not violate the Charter and that freedom of association “should not be expanded to protect the right not to associate.” Expanded? This implies that freedom from association is something other than a corollary of freedom of association. This view is incorrect. And it’s illogical.

In the end, the court had to bend the rules of good-reasoning to protect the Rand Formula. The word “freedom” necessarily implies choice. At a bare minimum, it must mean that individuals are free to choose to associate and free to choose not to associate. Yet the Lavigne decision protects the government’s constitutional authority to force individuals into involuntary associations. This is to confuse freedom with compulsion.

The real injustice in Quebec is not that tuition rates have been raised by a fraction. It’s that unions are supporting the protesting students using money involuntarily collected from unwilling Canadians.

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