In 1986, B.C., public health nurse Cecilia Moore was fired for refusing to sign an abortion referral.
Since then, The Interim has followed Miss Moore’s dogged efforts to win justice for the pre-born child and for herself.
She has taken her case to the British Columbia Government Employees’ Union, the British Columbia Supreme Court , the British Columbia Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court of Canada, the Industrial Relations Council, the Ombudsman, and the Human Rights Council.
Miss Moore has encountered every imaginable technical objection from the Crown and her union to prevent her from obtaining a hearing on the merits of the case.
In December 1990, she finally won the right to have her case heard by the Human Rights Council of British Columbia.
In July and August of this year, the Human Rights Council heard evidence on the case at the North Vancouver Courthouse.
Miss Moore was rigorously cross-examined for three days by Crown counsel and broke down twice while recalling some of the events leading to her firing.
“I was so upset about it,” she recalled, “I thought my supervisor had lost his mind, to a certain extent. [Here] was a baby and I was asked to kill that child,” she told chairman Lorna Barr.
Throughout the hearing, Crown counsel Susan Ross accused Moore of unsuitability for employment by reason of disobedience, insubordination, partiality, bias, lack of objectivity, and sex discrimination.
Miss Moore’s religious views actually impaired her judgment in dealing with the application. She did not decline to deal with the application before her. She did deal with it by rejecting it, Ms. Ross argued.
Then she charged discrimination and breach of contract: “It is simply inconsistent with the right [of the GAIN recipient] to receive services on a non-discriminatory basis for a worker administering the Act to make a decision on a discriminatory basis…This is a case of sex discrimination with respect to pregnancy and in particular, abortion,” she asserted.
Ms. Ross added, “Moore possibly committed a breach of her duties as a public servant…What I am talking about is bias…If workers allow their faith to influence their disposition of an application before them, they would be biased, they would be taking into account irrelevant considerations, and they would be in breach of all the precious principles of administrative law and impartiality of public service that we have to live by in order to have a law of the land…”
Whereas Crown Counsel Ross charged Miss Moore with a subjective interpretation of regulations, surprisingly none of Moore’s supervisors actually accused her of it. Cecilia Moore was not dismissed because of it, they offered. The managers of her Region agreed that she was technically correct to deny the application.
Cecilia’s co-worker, Evelyn Fox, testified that although she herself was “pro-choice” she agreed with Moore’s decision that the applicant was not eligible under the existing policy. “If he [Temple] had ordered me to sign the coverage for abortion, I would probably have said I don’t want to do it. If he had threatened to fire me, I would have done it.” Fox explained to chairwoman Lorna Barr.
Art Temple, Cecilia Moore’s supervisor, testified that “the issue was dealt with on the grounds of the client’s request and certainly what my perception was in her best interest.”
Mr. Temple justified his actions by explaining, “I don’t assume because someone’s Catholic or of a particular denomination that they necessarily follow all the tenets of that particular religions.”
He added, “there was no procedure that on moral grounds or religious beliefs…someone may not perform some of those duties.”
Ministry [of Social Services] officials admitted during the hearing that no attempt was made to accommodate Miss Moore’s freedom of conscience and religion. They also claimed inconvenience without being able to prove any. However, Mr. Temple admitted that this was the only such incident he had encountered in 22 years.
If an order is dangerous or illegal, an employee may disobey it under the union’s collective agreement. In this case, the order was dangerous to the mother and child (and illegal), but accommodation was denied heartlessly and cynically.
Karen Rash, a social worker and Cecilia’s shop steward in 1985, testified that Art Temple pressured her to comply with his order: “Basically it boiled down to the fact that he told her [to sign the form] and he was her superior. He stated [during a meeting between the three of them] that he didn’t like his authority challenged.”
“He was agitated,” Ms. Rash continued. “He would sometimes raise his arms or point, his voice was loud and there was an intensity, sort of a heat behind his words. He very much demanded her to do as he instructed, and was repeatedly reminding her that that was her position, to do as he said.”
Ms. Rash said that she asked Mr. Temple why he couldn’t exempt Cecilia Moore from this assignment. “No, he felt that this was a matter of it being Cecilia’s responsibility and she was the worker assigned and needed to deal with it,” she reported.
Faced with Miss Moore’s refusal, Mr. Temple signed the requisition form, “Moore per Temple,” although it was not her decision and she did not sign through him.