At the end of June, Mr. Justice James Southey of the Ontario Supreme Court ruled that Ontario’s Retail Business Holidays Act was unconstitutional. AN amendment to an otherwise “Charter proof” Act had given the right to determine whether or not stores could open on Sunday to municipalities. This, Judge Southey declared, is unacceptable; local councils have no right to decide such matters. He also ruled that the law violated the religious freedom of people who did not recognize Sunday as a holy day.
In effect, Judge Southey sided with the Canadian Jewish Congress. This organization had argued that, because the Act singled out people because of religion, it was “unpalatable and discriminatory.” Because a small number of Jewish establishments owned by Orthodox Jews – a minority among Jews – close on Saturdays for the Sabbath, Jewish community representatives have worked for years to overthrow the Christian day of rest on the ground of “discrimination.”
In a ruling on the same Act made in 1986, the Supreme Court of Canada had conceded that the Act “discriminated” against Jews who observed the Sabbath but that this was “reasonable and demonstrably justified in a free society.”
Since then, however, Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has come into effect. It guarantees equal rights for all citizens. The Canadian Jewish Congress kept insisting that the 1986 decision troubled the Jewish community, and that the amendments to the Act “again fail to afford the Jewish community the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without religious discrimination.”
Naturally the Congress was overjoyed at Mr. Justice Southey’s decision. So was the Committee for Fair Shopping, an industry pressure group which had kept insisting that drug stores and convenience stores had an unfair advantage over supermarkets.
Others supporting the overthrow of a family day of rest included the three Toronto dailies. Linda Leatherdale, business editor of the Toronto Sun, wrote that the tireless fight of furrier Paul Magder and others had finally forced Ontario “to join the rest of the world” and allow Sunday shopping.
(Apparently for her, the real world consists essentially of the U.S. There is no Sunday shopping in Western Europe; no shopping on Fridays in the Islamic world; and no shopping on Saturdays in Israel.
Shortly before the decision came down, Metro Chairman Alan Tonks had been trying to get the Council of Metropolitan Toronto to agree to a trial period of Sunday shopping from noon to 5 p.m. He was soundly defeated. The Council’s legislation and licensing committee urged Council to ensure that Sunday was a common pause day, free of shopping, work and traffic. When the question came before the Council on June 20, Tonks’ proposal got only 7 votes in favour, and the opposition to it got 21. Council did not even approve of holding a referendum on the matter; only 6 were in favour of this. Tonks urged councilors to “look into their hearts” and resist pressure from churches and unions to close down Sundays; few of the councilors agreed with his arguments. They not only looked into their hearts, but they listened to what their constituents were telling them – and so they voted against Sunday shopping.
In the Toronto Star, Peter Edwards reported on an interview with Al Zacks on the U.S. based United Food and Commercial Workers (U.F.C.W.) Free trade seems to have left Canadians thinking, said Zacks, that “Canada needs to do all those family-destructive things we do in the U.S.” “ It really hurt us,” he went on. “I don’t think two wrongs make a right. The American experience, by and large, is to expand hours – to attempt to make Sunday a part of the work week instead of a special day.”
To this Edwards added the results of another interview, with Kathy McClafferty, who works in Shopper’s World. “I want to see my husband,” she said, “I want to see my kids. There just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day. Sunday’s the only day we all have together.” Then she added, ‘I’m sad for the way of life we’re losing.”
She and her fellow workers may not even gain financially. Negotiations are under way between the supermarkets and 32,000 employees represented by the Canadian branch of the U.F.C.W. Union leaders point out that they want to avoid what happened in Alberta and B.C., where workers were at first paid double time for Sunday employment, and then this was reduced to time-and-a-half. In Ontario there are many workers who get no extra compensation at all.
Among the parties running in the Ontario provincial election set for September, Liberals and Conservatives approve of Sunday shopping, the NDP and FCP oppose it. The Family Coalition Party rejects it as yet another attack on Christianity, as an assault on workers’ freedom, and as a setting back of a one-hundred-year-long struggle to gain the right of not working on Sundays and Saturdays. Opponents have called for a shopping boycott.