Canada's Senate broke ranks with the federal government on
June 26, 2013 by blocking a bill which would have mandated public
financial disclosure by unions.
While the Senate has been under close scrutiny of late over
expenses, the ongoing government business has included a contested
debate of Bill C-377, which would require labour organizations to
disclose all payments made to outside groups or individuals worth
$5,000 or more and salary disclosure for workers earning more than
The controversial private member's bill sponsored by
Conservative MP Russ Hiebert would amend the Income Tax
Act and require disclosure of relevant financial information
to the Canada Revenue Agency. These statements would then be
available on a public website. Similar regimes are already in place
in some other jurisdictions.
The ostensible justification for the new requirements is the
fact that unions are exempt from taxation. Proponents of C-377
argue that unions should be treated with the same public disclosure
requirements that charities follow. Some have also claimed that the
move to greater transparency is justifiable since unionized
Canadian workplaces impose mandatory dues on employees whether or
not they are union members, and union dues are tax deductible.
Critics of C-377 have questioned the bill's impact on
privacy rights and its constitutionality. The specific requirements
on disclosing political activity also arguably infringe on freedoms
of association and expression protected under Canada's
Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A number of unions have
also been vocal about the excessive compliance costs.
The initial vote on C-377 in the House of Commons was tight, and
the bill passed in a narrow 147-135 vote in December 2012. The
Senate initially voted in favour by 55-35, which resulted in the
bill being moved to Second Reading. At this stage, the bill was
voted down 49-33.
Those Senators who opposed the bill also passed substantial
amendments which effectively gutted the key substantive provisions.
Under the Senate's version of the bill, the disclosure
threshold was increased from $100,000 to what some have called the
"mischievous" level of $444,661, and the transaction
reporting obligation would only be triggered at the $150,000 level.
The Senate amendments would also exempt union locals and unions
with fewer than 50,000 members.
The result of the Senate vote is that the bill has now been sent
back to the House of Commons, which has already recessed for the
summer. Although C-377 is a private member's bill, the
government has indicated it is supportive, so the issue is quite
likely to surface again in the fall.
The foregoing provides only an overview. Readers are
cautioned against making any decisions based on this material
alone. Rather, a qualified lawyer should be consulted.
Unfortunately, reasonable accommodation for employees in the workplace continues to be the source of significant litigation and even today we continue to see outrageous examples of employers behaving badly.
We are now beginning to see reported cases involving charges and subsequent fines laid against employers for failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to protect a worker from workplace violence.
On October 13, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada denied leave to appeal an Ontario Court of Appeal decision which ordered an employer to pay a former employee 37 months of salary and benefits following termination.
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