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A Letter to Canada's Minister of Labour
The Hon. Jean-Pierre Blackburn

letter writing

To:
The Hon. Jean-Pierre Blackburn
Minister of Labour

C.C.Mr James Moore M.P.

Dear Minister Blackburn,

I am a resident of Coquitlam B.C. and an employee at the Molson brewery in Vancouver, B.C.

In May 2006, Molson Vancouver and the Brewery Winery and Distillery Workers Union local 300, jointly signed a six-year contract that further entrenched and solidified two-tier discrimination, and further increased the divide between "benefit" and "non-benefit" employees.

While the current benefited workers at the Molson brewery in Vancouver will enjoy a modest pay increase, future hires will face a drop in pay making a difference of about $14.25/hour between workers doing exactly the same work.

On December 10th 1948 the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was deemed an historic act destined to consolidate world peace through the liberation of individuals from unjustified oppression.

The member countries were vested with the responsibility of implementing this important international law by integrating it into domestic legislation. But it would seem that in Canada the machinery of human rights rapidly rusted to a screaming halt, especially with regard to the implementation of human rights in the workplace. The result is that though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is supposed to apply to every human on the planet, government foot dragging has permitted the Molson Coors brewing company to claim (incredible though it sounds) that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not apply to workers in the Province of British Columbia. Consequently, Molson Coors believes that it is under no obligation to comply with UDHR 23(2), which asserts that, "Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work".

It is now nearly fifty-eight years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights came into existence, and yet it has still not been entirely embodied into Canadian Law. To call this, a snail's pace, is perhaps an insult to the race of snails.

I have attempted to take up this issue directly with my employer (Molson Coors), unfortunately though, they have indicated that they are no longer interested in discussing this issue beyond denying that they are under any obligation to live up to the standards of conduct required by the UDHR (please refer to the attachment to this email).

It is with the above facts in mind that I ask you as a Member of Canada's Parliament to be recognisant of this problem and to discuss and investigate with fellow parliamentarians, both inside and outside of the house, how Canada can finally fulfill its international obligations in embodying this important international instrument (the UDHR) into Canadian Law, both federal and provincial, bearing also in mind that according to the UDHR "...no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty".

I also ask you to personally pledge that as a member of parliament you will do all that you can to ensure, that these International Human Rights, are finally and clearly embodied into Canadian Law for the enjoyment of all Canadians.

In anticipation of your response,

Yours Sincerely,

John Barker
[Mailed early Sept 2006]

Attachment Attached File: barker_19dec2005.pdf (50Kbytes)



The Hon. Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Minister of Labour, Replies...



On the letterhead of ...
Minister of Labour and Minister of the
Economic Development Agency of Canada
for the Regions of Quebec
Ottawa, Canada K1A OJ2
NOV 07 2006
Mr. John Barker
Coquitlam, British Columbia
V3E 2N8

Dear Mr. Barker:

Thank you for your recent letter regarding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and provisions in a collective agreement between Molson Canada and the Brewery, Winery and Distillery Workers Union, Local 300.

I wish to explain that the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a non-binding instrument that represents a common statement of goals and aspirations. Canada is firmly committed to the promotion of human rights within Canada and throughout the world, and is a party to the six principal United Nations human rights conventions and covenants. The principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the various human rights conventions that Canada has ratified are embodied in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the human rights legislation of each Canadian jurisdiction. It is my understanding that no Canadian court has found two-tier wage provisions to violate fundamental human rights.

Under labour relations legislation in Canada, the parties determine, through the process of collective bargaining, the terms and conditions of employment that will govern their relationship. If you are concerned about the inclusion of a two-tier wage provision in your collective agreement, you may wish to bring them to the attention of the appropriate union official.

Under Canada's Constitution, regulatory authority is divided between the federal, provincial and territorial governments, each of which has the power to legislate in areas related to labour and human rights. The applicable labour and human rights laws in your case are those of the province of British Columbia. You may wish to raise your concerns with the Honourable Olga Ilich, Minister of Labour and Citizens' Services, Government of British Columbia, P.O. Box 9052, Stn Prov Govt, Victoria, British Columbia, V8W 9E2.

Thank you again for taking the time to express your views on this matter.

Sincerely,

Jean-Pierre Blackburn, P.C., M.P.



My Response to This



To:
The Hon. Jean-Pierre Blackburn
Minister of Labour

C.C. Mr. James Moore M.P.

Dear Minister Blackburn,

Thank you for your letter of Nov. 07 2006 in which you reply to my earlier correspondence regarding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and provisions in the collective agreement between Molson Canada and the Brewery, Winery and Distillery Workers Union, Local 300.

In your above mentioned reply you state that…

"I wish to explain that the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a non-binding instrument that represents a common statement of goals and aspirations. Canada is firmly committed to the promotion of human rights within Canada and throughout the world, and is a party to the six principal United Nations human rights conventions and covenants. The principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the various human rights conventions that Canada has ratified are embodied in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the human rights legislation of each Canadian jurisdiction. It is my understanding that no Canadian court has found two-tier wage provisions to violate fundamental human rights."
The possibility that the UDHR may be a non-binding instrument would, I am sure, seem irrelevant in the minds of most Canadians, given that, as you state, Canada is firmly committed to the promotion of human rights within Canada and throughout the world.

If indeed Canada is so committed to human rights, and the UDHR is the core UN document with regards to international human rights, as it surely is, then why, nearly 60 years after approving of the UDHR, Canada has still not fully embodied these human rights into its domestic law, is surely still a question worth asking and worthy of a straight answer.

If Canada is committed to human rights, one would naturally expect that this would be a country where the UDHR was honoured and abided by, and that Canada's political officers who are entrusted with it's governance would be seeking opportunities to encourage adherence to its articles and principles, including article 23(2) that "Every one without any discrimination is entitled to equal pay for equal work". And one would expect that these same officers of the country would be enthusiastic about including these rights in the domestic legislation of the nation instead of seeking loopholes and excuses for unscrupulous and scurrilous employers to exploit in the suppression of their employees human rights in order to increase their own private gain.

According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the "International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights" is indeed a legally binding treaty as is made clear on its web site at... http://www.unhchr.ch/udhr/miscinfo/carta.htm

Now as you so rightly mention in your letter, Canada is a party to the six principal United Nations human rights conventions and covenants. So if we look at one of these six covenants, the above-mentioned International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and examine Article 7 section (a) (i) we find that...

“Article 7
The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work which ensure, in particular:

(a) Remuneration which provides all workers, as a minimum, with:

(i) Fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value without distinction of any kind, in particular women being guaranteed conditions of work not inferior to those enjoyed by men, with equal pay for equal work”
Now though this clause makes particular reference to women (and quite rightly so, given that women have all too often been victims of wage discrimination), it nevertheless reiterates the language of UDHR 23(2) in that it demands "equal remuneration for work of equal value without distinction of any kind", and then after it special mention of equality for women, again reiterates the language of UDHR 23(2) "with equal pay for equal work".

Furthermore and again remembering that the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is indeed a legally binding treaty, it is perhaps worth taking note that in the preamble of this important international binding treaty, that Canada is a party to, it clearly states that...

"The States Parties to the present Covenant,

Considering that, in accordance with the principles proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Recognizing that these rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human person,

Recognizing that, in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ideal of free human beings enjoying freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his economic, social and cultural rights, as well as his civil and political rights,

Considering the obligation of States under the Charter of the United Nations to promote universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and freedoms,

Realizing that the individual, having duties to other individuals and to the community to which he belongs, is under a responsibility to strive for the promotion and observance of the rights recognized in the present Covenant,

Agree upon the following articles:" etc, etc.

Now please read this document carefully, for it is quite clear that by agreeing to it Canada has also agreed that it recognises that the only way its citizens can enjoy freedom from fear and want is if, "conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his economic, social and cultural rights, as well as his civil and political rights", "in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights".

Now it is certainly worth asking, just how are conditions to be created whereby everyone may enjoy their economic, social and cultural rights? Clearly under today’s configuration of society the only way that these conditions can be created is if the State through its political representatives enforces these conditions by fulfilling the obligations inherent in these international treaties by raising them to the status of domestic law. And this can only be done through government legislation.

It is interesting to note that according to this fine document, I as an individual, having duties to other individuals and to the community to which I belongs, am under a responsibility to strive for the promotion and observance of the rights recognized in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

So, if I have that much responsibility as an ordinary individual, then how much heavier is your responsibility as a Member of Parliament to strive for the promotion and observance of the rights recognized in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which clearly includes recognition of the rights upheld in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Now Sir you also claim that "The principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the various human rights conventions that Canada has ratified are already embodied in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the human rights legislation of each Canadian jurisdiction." You present this as a bald claim without supporting evidence, but if this were true then two-tierism would not be a problem in this country, so you are evidently mistaken in this case.

You also state “It is my understanding that no Canadian court has found two-tier wage provisions to violate fundamental human rights." This might well be true, and perhaps it may also be true that I am the first person to notice that this is a human rights issue. But for government to idly stand by ignoring the human rights of its citizens until perhaps some judge does the government’s job for it, seems to me to be nothing less than a dereliction of duty.

You further suggest that the matter that I am bringing before you falls under the jurisdiction of the provincial governments and suggest that I raise the matter with the B.C. minister of labour. However it is the Canadian federal government that is responsible for engaging with the United Nations in matters of international human rights and it is the federal government that has presumably accepted the burden of responsibility for participating in these International Treaties and Declarations, so I would suggest that instead of burdening me with this responsibility, that it is the responsibility of the federal government to engage the provinces in a dialogue in order to ensure that the rights of all Canadian citizens are upheld. Furthermore, no distinction [according to the UDHR] shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

So I respectfully suggest that after nearly 60 years of thumb twiddling that perhaps the time is long overdue for all Canadian MPs and MLAs to get with the program with regards to human rights and start doing what us taxpayers presumably pay you to do, which is to look after the interest of Canada's ordinary citizens and that unarguably includes protecting and enforcing our human rights.

It is therefore with the above facts in mind that I ask you as a Member of Canada's Parliament to be recognisant of this problem and to discuss and investigate with fellow parliamentarians, both inside and outside of the house, how Canada can finally fulfill its international obligations in embodying this important international instrument (the UDHR) into Canadian Law, both federal and provincial, bearing also in mind that according to the UDHR "...no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty".

I also ask you to personally pledge that as a member of parliament you will do all that you can to ensure, that these International Human Rights, are finally and clearly embodied into Canadian Law for the enjoyment of all Canadians.

In anticipation of your response,

Yours Sincerely,

John Barker
29 Nov 2006



And Then...



On the letterhead of ...
Minister of Labour and Minister of the
Economic Development Agency of Canada
for the Regions of Quebec
Ottawa, Canada K1A OJ2
FEB 16 2007
Mr. John Barker
Coquitlam, British Columbia
V3E 2N8

Dear Mr. Barker:

Thank you for your recent letter, received on December 6, 2006, replying to my letter of November 7, 2006, and for your further observations regarding labour and human rights in Canada.

I would like to begin by reiterating that Canada is firmly committed to the promotion of human rights within Canada and throughout the world. The principles of the various human rights conventions that Canada has ratified are embodied in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the human rights legislation of each Canadian jurisdiction.

In Canada, individuals who feel that their rights have been infringed upon have recourse to various redress mechanisms. As I noted previously, regulatory authority to legislate in the areas of labour and human rights is divided among the federal, provincial and territorial governments by virtue of the Canadian constitution. As the issue that you raised in your first letter falls within the jurisdiction of the Province of British Columbia, you may wish to raise your concerns with the Honourable Olga Ilich, Minister of Labour and Citizens' Services or with the British Columbian Human Rights Tribunal, 1170-605 Robson Street, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6B 5J3.

Thank you again for taking the time to write and to express additional views on labour and human rights matters.

Sincerely,

Jean-Pierre Blackburn, P.C., M.P.

c.c.
Mr. James Moore, M.P.
Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam



So, while thanking me for my further observations, the Minister seemingly declines to address any of them.




Thinking of Writing Your Own Letter?

Is the pen mightier than the sword?  Is letter writing capable of effecting change?  It's clear that many organizations such as Amnesty International think so, and its also clear that such organizations do have a significant impact.

Some months prior to snail mailing the initial letter above to the Federal Minister of Labour, I had emailed essentially the same document to every Canadian MP in Ottawa.

The results were not astounding.  My initial efforts met with only six responses and one of these was merely an office assistant’s assurance that my correspondence had been received.  My local M.P. James Moore did have the decency to bring his copy of the email to the attention of the Minister of Labour, the Hon. Jean-Pierre Blackburn, spurring me to send a copy to him in long hand and by regular mail in order to grab his attention.

Prior to receiving Mr. Blackburn's letter, only four M.P.s had seen fit to make real responses to the emails.  All four were NDP, all four were women and all four gave positive responses, pledging their general support for human rights in the workplace.

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Does this mean, that a federal majority NDP government would abolish two-tier discrimination in the workplace?  I think the difference in intent would not be insignificant, but real change would probably not happen without a great deal of public pressure and awareness.  We have only to look at the Province of Saskatchewan to know this to be true.  Saskatchewan has a relatively long history of NDP governments, but two-tier wage discrimination is as much a part of reality in that province as in any other.  Just a little while ago a correspondent was telling me of the two-tier wage problems experienced at Mitchell's Meats in Saskatoon. Mitchell's Gourmet Foods is home to Olympic Fine Meats and Mitchell's Gourmet Food brands.  So it is clear that the mere presence of an NDP Government is not enough in itself to make a real difference in matters of human rights.  Politicians who wish to defend the status quo, or their do-nothing record in the area of human rights, are fond of asserting that the UDHR is technically not legally-binding on nations, but this misses the essential point that these human rights are considered fundamental and it was incumbent upon the parties to take the initiative of incorporating these rights into domestic law so that they would be legally-binding within the domestic law of each nation.  As long as we have government and therefore a ruling class, it seems it will always be necessary for the working class to continually agitate and make their voice heard above the crass commercialism and propaganda of the owning class if indeed any working class interests are to be attended to at all.

The power of letter writing, mild though it may be, is still many times more effective than that of the ballot box.  Emma Goldman claimed that if voting made a difference it would be illegal, and while it is still worthwhile to vote (it requires an extremely trivial amount of effort) it is hard to underestimate its value in a capitalist oligarchy in the guise of representative "democracy".  I explain some of the reasons for this in my article 'A Tale of Two Tiers', but there are others and it doesn't require a great deal of reflection to bring them to mind.

If every working class person who took the trouble to vote for their brand of dictatorship also took the trouble to articulate and demand the implementation of human rights for the working class, one could well expect that there might be a significant change in the dynamics of government.

So by all means, write a letter to your M.P., M.L.A., congressional representative or whatever, and demand that our governments comply with their obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to prohibit human rights violations domestically, to outlaw two-tier discrimination and to demand equal pay for equal work for everyone without any discrimination in compliance with UDHR 23(2).  And let's demand respect for our Human Rights, right here in continental North America, rather than our governments forcing "human rights" at gun point down the throats of some poor inhabitants of some far flung scorching dessert.

When you send your letter, consider CC'ing or BCC'ing a copy to me, so that I can use some of your material to assemble some generic letters that can be published for the benefit of those who lack leisure or ability and may therefore need some help with pen or keyboard.

In Solidarity,
John Barker

---oooOOOooo---

Here's the official contact info for Canadian MPs.
http://www.parl.gc.ca/information/about/people/house/mpscur.asp?Language=E

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Aug 2006, Revised: Dec 2006, Mar 2007