Northern Exposure

For First Time, 22,000 Mounties Can Begin Organizing in 2010

By Sara Parchello

The face of unionization in Canada is changing. Although it’s declining in the private sector, it’s increasing in the public sector. A few recent decisions by Canadian courts show this trend.

The most recent is a decision involving the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (commonly known as the “Mounties”). On April 6, 2009, the Ontario Superior Court gave the Mounties the right to unionize.

This was not the first time the Mounties fought for the right to unionize. Before this month’s win by the Mounties, Canada’s top court had said they couldn’t unionize. In that decision 10 years ago, the Supreme Court said that the freedom of association in the Charter of Rights didn’t guarantee the right to unionize. Now, 10 years later, Ontario’s Superior Court has said that legislation is unconstitutional. Canada’s federal government now has 18 months before the decision takes effect. So we can expect to see Canada’s nearly 22,000 Mounties start organizing activities in the fall of 2010.

The Mounties decision is not surprising given that most police forces tend to be unionized. On the other hand, the move is surprising given the opposition from top commanders within the Mounties to unionization. They have long said that unionization would be divisive and politicize the members.

Another interesting right to unionize case came out of Quebec at the end of October last year. The decision, Confédération des syndicats nationaux v. Québec (Procureur général), now gives in-home (and government-funded) child care providers the right to unionize.

As in the Mounties case, legislation previously existed that did not allow in-home child care providers funded by the government to unionize. What is interesting about this case is that the judge looked at the group providing the child care services – a traditionally “disadvantaged” group of women – when overturning the legislation. The judge concluded that the legislation deprived women, who made up 95 percent of the workers, certain Charter-guaranteed rights. As such, the judge overturned the legislation on the basis that it was discriminatory on the basis of sex and that this was contrary to the Canadian and Quebec Charters:

…women who occupy typically feminine jobs are the victims of prejudice in our society. There is a reluctance to recognize that the work these women do is real work … The women in question in this case are in a position of vulnerability that arises largely from the nature of their typically female work but also from all the conditions surrounding the carrying out of this work in the domestic context, which involves isolation and solitude. These women therefore constitute a historically disadvantaged minority. … [The legislation] creates a distinction based on an enumerated ground (sex) and an analogous ground (caregiving at home).

Despite these wins, the news has not been all positive for the pro-union movement. On April 2, 2009, the Supreme Court of Canada said that the Ontario government can appeal the Ontario Court of Appeal’s decision to allow farm workers to unionize. It will be interesting to see whether the Supreme Court of Canada supports farm workers’ right to unionize or curtails it.

These decisions illustrate the larger Canadian statistical trend of high unionization rates in the public sector and a decline in unionization in the private sector, particularly in manufacturing. Despite these trends, there have been some small increases in unionization in certain private services including retail trade, financial services and accommodation, and among women. Most striking is that unions appear to be focusing on organizing nontraditional sectors and workers.