An important decision has been made by the Federal government in granting an exemption from union dues on religious grounds.  An employee of Revenue Canada has successfully applied for and received an exemption from the payment of dues to his union because of his strong objection to his union’s position on the abortion issue.

The Revenue Canada employee, a member of the Roman Catholic Church, objected to the position taken by the Public Service Alliance of Canada that supported free-standing abortion clinics and the “pro-choice” position on abortion.  As a result of this significant decision by the Federal government to recognize the religious objection to the payment of trade union dues, on the issue of abortion, a significant opportunity has been given to Pro-life Federal government employees to take a stand on principle on the abortion issue.

In May of 1985, the Revenue Canada employee filed an affidavit setting out his objections to Public Service alliance of Canada’s position on the abortion issue.  The individual also made a formal request to divert his union dues to a recognized charitable organization.  Under Article 10.04 of the Collective Agreement between the Treasury Board of Canada and the Public Service Alliance of Canada, any individual may submit an affidavit indicating his objection, on religious grounds, to the payment of trade union dues.  This provision of the Collective Agreement would apply to all unionized employees in the Federal Civil Service.

In the affidavit, the Revenue Canada employee said, “I am a practicing member of the Roman Catholic Faith…I accept the doctrine of my church that human life begins at conception, that God is the author of life, and that all life is created in the image of God; further, I accept the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church that the abortion of unborn children is the act of killing an innocent human life and I believe that abortion is contrary to the laws of God, the Bible, and my personal religious beliefs.”

The affidavit went on to say, “I believe that the PSAC’s “pro-choice” position on abortion is immoral and amounts to an acceptance of the killing of unborn children who obviously have no choice in the decision to perform an abortion.”

The affidavit concluded by the employee requesting that he be granted an exemption, on religious grounds, from the payment of trade union dues and that the same amount be paid to a recognized charitable organization.

After approximately 13 months of waiting for the Federal government’s decision, the employee, whose name has been withheld at his own request, received written confirmation of the acceptance of his exemption.  The Revenue Canada official apologized to the employee for the length of time it took to reach a decision because of the precedent-setting nature of the request.

The decision should allow other Federal government employees, covered by the same Collective Agreement, to obtain the same exemption from the payment of trade union dues.  An employee would be required to file an affidavit that indicates a religious objection to the position of the union on the issue of abortion.  This would then require the Federal government to allow the exemption that is set out in Article 10.04 of the Collective Agreement.

This is also a precedent-setting decision because it is the first case, anywhere in Canada, where a complete exemption from the payment of trade union dues has been allowed solely on the individual’s religious objections to his union’s position on abortion.  The principle in this case may have far-reaching effects.  Firstly, it may increase the number of individuals in the Federal Civil Service who have pro-life views based  on religious beliefs, to take a stand on the issue of abortion.  Secondly, it may put financial pressure on the Federal government union that may require it to reconsider its strident pro-abortion position.  Both of these significant developments come as a result of one man who stood on his religious principles and would not waiver of compromise.  This fact, by itself, is worthy of note and emulation.

Norman A. Keith is Chairman, of the Christian Legal Fellowship.