Vive le Quebec non-libre?

By Brian Low

Far be it for me to suggest that the Supreme Court of Canada always makes the "right" decisions or that it is always common-sensical in its judgements. It is a legal institution, subject to many of the same shortcomings that are found in other legal institutions. In the main, it seems to render equitable verdicts, but if it doesn’t strike down the Quebec construction labour laws, it’s time for a second look.

On Sunday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments concerning the constitutionality of a Quebec law requiring every construction worker to belong to one of five unions in the province. This makes it practically impossible for out-of-province workers to be legally employed in Quebec.

The provincial government may as well put up signs at the border to that effect. They could read: Welcome To Quebec (dogs and migrants please disregard). Of course, the sign would be in French only, so much of its intended bite would be lost upon the target audience, but the province would support this as a necessary measure to protect its distinct language and culture.

The idea that a province should be able to "protect its own" by making it impossible for outsiders to work within its borders is ludicrous. Last time I checked, we were all Canadians. No effectual work visas ought to be required to labour within our own country. Xenophobes are people who discriminate against foreigners. I don’t even think there’s a term to describe discrimination against your own countrymen–rest-of-Canada-ophobes, maybe? Or perhaps construct-ophobes would be more appropriate? In any case, this law is just silly.

The Quebec proviso regarding construction labour has resulted in literally tens of thousands of fines for construction workers. Many are no longer allowed to enter the province without facing immediate detainment and arrest upon detection by provincial authorities. And it’s not just outsiders either. Even within Quebec, an estimated 50 per cent of construction labourers take their chances working without union membership. If the law were fully enforced, it would shut down the province’s whole construction industry.

But whether the law is enforceable is beside the point, as far as the Supreme Court will be concerned. Governments have passed plenty of unenforceable laws in the past without violating anyone’s constitutional rights. There are precious few motions to repeal roadway speed laws just because the police could never stop every high-speed driver, for example. The issue for the Supreme Court will be whether the law violates the right to freedom of association as expressed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

So does it? Do restrictive Quebec labour laws violate our fundamental rights as citizens? How the hell should I know? That’s what the Supreme Court is for. All I know is that laws like this are senseless. And in a perfect world, that alone would be grounds for repealment.

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