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Freedom of Association is No Less Vital Than Freedom of Speech


Previously published in The London Free Press, June 1st, 1998


Rory Leishman

 Author Notes

Freelance journalist, author of a weekly national affairs column for The London Free Press and Sun Media Newspapers in London, Ontario. Mr. Leishman's work also appears in various other journals, and he operates his own web site where others of his essays can be viewed. He can be reached via e-mail at rleishman@home.com.

 Essay - 6/1/1998

Who can doubt that the appointment of a well-known separatist like David Levine to serve as president and chief executive officer of Ottawa Hospital was a serious blunder?

While the hospital's trustees stand by their choice in public, CBC reporter Jason Moscovitz says he has got the impression from some trustees in private that they regret the decision to appoint Levine. Well they should. Hundreds of people in the Ottawa area have been so outraged by the selection of a separatist to head the hospital that they have vowed to stop their donations to the institution.

Ontario Premier Mike Harris has sensibly observed that while it is up to the hospital trustees to decide whom to they want to appoint as president, he would not have selected a separatist as his first choice. Surely, he suggested, the hospital could have found a "Canadian or even a non-Canadian" who is a capable administrator and "believes in Canada and keeping Canada together."

Of course, Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard professes to be offended by the uproar over Levine's appointment. "I am as surprised as many people," he says, "to see this outburst of intolerance."

Why, though, should Bouchard be surprised? He ought to understand that it's not just people in Ottawa, but a great many other patriotic Canadians who are upset over separatism. The Levine uproar will have served a useful purpose if it drives home to Quebec voters that Bouchard is talking nonsense when he assures that his government could split Canada apart without generating any profoundly bitter, long-lasting and mutually damaging disputes between federalists and separatists, inside and outside Quebec.

Like Bouchard, Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Ontario Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty have joined the chorus of opposition to critics of Levine's appointment. "In Canada," says Chretien, "political considerations are not a question that we ask for employment."

Is that right? Can Chretien swear that he never takes political considerations into account in making appointments to the federal public service? Did political considerations have nothing to do with Bouchard's decision last summer to appoint Levine as agent general for Quebec in New York?

Politicians like Chretien and Bouchard routinely discriminate on the basis of political considerations in making employment decisions. Why cannot the rest of us?

Alan Borovoy, general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, insists it's a matter of freedom of speech. With reference to the Levine affair, he says: "There should not be discrimination, because of the candidate's political involvement in separatist politics."

In an interview with Moscovitz on CBC Radio, Borovoy contended that, "our political freedoms must mean that we not pay improper penalities for the excerise of those freedoms. This is a free country. It doesn't matter if you are espousing the cause of federalism, socialism, capitalism, separatism or whatever it is; you should not have to pay the price of your job for the exercise of those freedoms in situations in which your political involvements are not relevant to the performance of the job."

Is freedom of speech the only freedom left in this supposedly free country. What about freedom of association?

Borovoy's claim that in most cases, an employer no longer has any right to refuse to hire a communist, a fascist, a separatist or anyone else on political grounds is a novel doctrine in Canadian law. There is no provision in the constitution of Canada, the precepts of the common law or the statutes of Ontario that bars an employer from refusing to hire someone who advocates political opinions which the employer finds repellent.

Levine's freedom of speech is in no way at issue in this controversy. His Ottawa critics are not trying to silence him. They insist only that if he wants to advocate the break up of this country, he should not expect to qualify for a $300,000-a-year post at an Ottawa hospital.

That's a perfectly legitimate viewpoint. A civil libertarian like Borovoy should understand that just as people should be free in a democracy to say some things that are both wrong and even deeply offensive, so everyone, including employers, should have the right to exercise their freedom of association in a way that seems best to them, without any arbitrary second guessing by the state.

Instead, what do we find? Day by day, the freedom under law of Canadians to say and do what they want is ever more constricted by the capricious decrees of politically correct judges and authoritarian human rights commissioners.

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