New Bills to Prevent Discrimination Based on Political Belief
There is a troubling trend in Canada. Both governments and big businesses often pressure people to endorse homogenous opinions on cultural and political issues – or stay silent.
Is it fair to fire, say, an airline pilot, for posting on her personal Facebook page that women’s sports should be reserved for genetic females only?
In Canada, as elsewhere, doing such a thing has cost people their jobs, even though their political opinion had no relevance to their job.
Losing your job for sharing a political opinion would make sense if, for example, you were president of the Communist Party of Canada and one day professed to be an ardent capitalist. But it is a rare job where holding or not holding a certain political belief is essential to your role.
With government spending making up about half of Canada’s GDP, there is already an extreme concentration of power in the state. When government then uses its spending power to favour those who endorse certain political views and disadvantage others – as in the Canada Summer Jobs program, or in only awarding government contracts to corporations that implement “diversity training” – democracy is undermined.
When large corporations with huge economic clout do the same, the problem is compounded. When people cannot participate politically as citizens without fearing for their livelihoods, freedom and democracy suffer. People’s ability to share, listen to, consider, and debate opinions withers.
To address this problem, Conservative MP Garnett Genuis and Senator Salma Ataullahjan have introduced parallel bills in the House of Commons and the Senate: Bill C-257 and Bill S-257, respectively. The point of introducing parallel bills in both chambers is to concentrate attention on the issue and to hopefully get a bill passed more quickly. Most non-government bills do not become law, and those that do often take a long time.
If passed, either bill would add “political belief and activity” as a “protected ground” to the Canadian Human Rights Act. This means that federally regulated employers could not discriminate against employees, clients, or consumers on the basis of their political beliefs or legitimate political activities – just as they cannot discriminate against people based on their religion, ethnicity, or sex.
Mr. Genuis explains his goal with the bill as follows: “My bill would prevent large corporations within federal jurisdiction [e.g. banks, airlines, telecoms, broadcasters, Crown corporations] from pressuring their employees to engage in or refrain from political activities. It would also prevent those companies from denying service to people on the basis of their politics. This bill does not prevent companies from taking positions on political issues, but it constrains their ability to use coercion to advance those positions.”
Mr. Genuis knows that his bill is only one step towards recovering and preserving a culture of free expression, open debate, and political participation. But it would send an important message that Parliament supports citizens’ freedom to hold and express political views without fearing the consequences.