observations and opinion
This week the Supreme Court of Canada issued a ruling that a trade union has the right to videotape people who cross a picket line. Why? Because the union has the right of “expression” under the Charter of Rights, and that expression includes publicizing who does things it doesn’t like.
I would respectfully disagree with the Court.
Picketing is a highly protected activity in Canada. The Courts have seen that the power to picket – to “communicate” a point of view, as they so genteely describe it, is integral to a union’s ability to get what it wants from other parties in labour disputes, and apparently, to coerce individual employees into staying off the job, even when those individuals desperately want to work.
In the new ruling, the Court notes very casually, at paragraph 36, that picketing can legitimately be used to “put pressure” on parties to settle a case. That includes “pressure” which would cause discomfort or intimidation to individual employees, customers, etc who might cross the line, I guess. The Court doesn’t say intimidation is okay, it only permits intimidation. See the difference?
No, you don’t, because there isn’t a difference. Permitting – indeed, facilitating – union intimidation is what the Court means to do with this decision. There can be no doubt at all. What can “pressure” be in this context – the filming of people as they conduct their business – other than that those filmed will somehow later be embarrassed, or worse, by those doing the filming? We know what it means.
But okay, let’s accept the court’s premises: (1) that picketing is a form of “communication” (2) aimed at intimidating people with un-named consequences (“pressure”) if they cross the line and (3) that such intimidation is protected expression under the Charter. Even then, the decision here is still wrong, if not as a matter of policy then as a matter of logic and law.
Having the right to “express” information or opinion about something, is not the same thing as having the right to collect that information. The purpose of the picket line videotaping was to collect information, for later use to “pressure” people (the court’s word, again). Where does this right to collect stop? Can a union compel me to remove my burqa, if I wear one? Or my ski mask? Must I show my driver’s license, to enable the union to collect what it needs in order to pressure me later?
The issue in this case is not whether the union has a right to express what it legitimately knows or thinks, but whether the union has the right to extract from unwilling sources what the union wants to know, for later tactical “expression.”
You might think that the big banks have too much money. Your right to express opinion (or “fact”) does not, unfortunately, permit you to enter their vaults and count the cash. Alas, it would appear that your rights of “expression” do not rate, compared to those of a trade union gaining economic advantage through intimidation.
My advice: before you visit the bank, form a trade union.