JD student Josh Mandryk has published a commentary in the Toronto Star arguing that the private member's bill C-377 now in front of the House of Commons, which would establish heavy Income Tax disclosure requirements for Trade Unions, is a punitive invasion of privacy ("Bill C-377: An invasion of privacy and attack on dissent," Oct. 18, 2012).
Read the commentary on the Toronto Star website, or below.
Bill C-377: An invasion of privacy and attack on dissent
How would you feel if your salary, medical expenses or disability payments were posted on a government website along with your name, address and a description of the reason for the payment?
You might soon be able to answer from experience if Conservative MP Russ Hiebert’s private member’s bill becomes law.
Bill C-377, An Act to Amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations), proposes amendments to the Income Tax Act that will require unions, their pension funds and training trusts to file statements on all transactions and disbursements over $5,000, as well as the salary of all employees and executives. The statements must include the name and address of the payer and payee, along with a description of the reason for the payment. The statements must be filed in a searchable format and will be posted on a government website.
The bill has passed second reading and is being reviewed by the finance committee.
Far from atypical, it is but the latest instance in a well-documented pattern of the Conservative government lashing out against groups seen as standing in its way.
Worse than the character assassination of former Opposition leaders Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff has been the systematic attack on its opponents in civil society. From slashing funding to women’s groups, to suppressing dissenters in the federal bureaucracy, to attacking environmental charities as “foreign-funded radicals,” this government has shown an unprecedented willingness to come down on groups who either actively or passively oppose its agenda.
And now they’ve come for the trade unionists.
Bill C-377 imposes financial disclosure requirements on unions far greater than those required of any other organization in Canada. Not even the government itself is required to provide this level of disclosure.
Two examples help illustrate just how invasive the bill is.
First, suppose you pass away while an active union member and your spouse receives a death benefit from your union’s pension plan. Bill C-377 would require your spouse’s name and address to be posted online, along with an explanation that he/she has received a sizeable payment as a result of your passing.
Or suppose you have a disability or require medication for a serious illness not covered by your province’s health-care plan. If you receive more than $5,000 in benefits from your union’s plan, your name and address, along with an explanation of why you’ve received that money, would be published online for your family, friends and employer to see.
Bill C-377 is exactly the kind of big-government intrusion on personal privacy that Conservatives claim to oppose.
To add insult to injury, a failure to file statements correctly, even in good faith, comes with a fine of $1,000 a day until proper filings are submitted. Even for the largest unions in Canada these fines are excessive.
For smaller locals with financial constraints and limited resources, they will be crippling.
Bill C-377 will be a bureaucratic nightmare for the government as well. There are some 25,000 local, national and international unions, pension funds and training centre trusts which will be required to file under Bill C-377. New staff will be needed for processing and filing this data as well as the ongoing enforcement of the regulations.
If the bill were anything more than an attack on unions, one must wonder why professional associations are exempt from its requirements. Like unions, professional associations collect dues from their members and advocate on their behalf. Professional association dues are also tax deductible for their members, the same as union dues. If the bill’s disclosure requirements were necessary, which they are not, one would think they would be even more important for professional associations since, unlike unions, their leaders aren’t democratically elected and their members can’t decertify them as their representative.
Transparency and accountability are important principles, but that’s hardly what Bill C-377 is about. Union executives are held accountable to their members through democratic elections. Unions file statements in accordance with their not-for-profit status, and these statements are available to any member who requests them, as mandated by union bylaws and constitutions. These processes make Bill C-377 largely unnecessary.
By demanding carte blanche financial disclosure with little justification, Hiebert appears to be swinging aimlessly in hopes of finding dirt on the labour movement.
Unfortunately, he and the rest of the world will have to dig through personal information about millions of Canadians before they find it.