Freedom of religion is not always easy to balance with other rights. But the case of Gingrich Woodcraft Inc., in northwestern Ontario, should have been clear enough.
This family furniture-making business has – or had? – 25 employees. In mid-August, 69 per cent of the employees voted in favour of forming themselves into a certified collective bargaining unit, joining the Unifor union.
Leon Gingrich, the president, then announced that he was closing the business on religious grounds. "As Christian business owners, our personal beliefs will not allow our conscience the freedom to work with a labour union," he said in a statement. He then referred to a passage from the New Testament: "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men."
Expanding on this, Mr. Gingrich said that Christians should not "use force to gain what we want or for what is required to succeed." He apparently meant that any strike or potential strike – perhaps even negotiations? – would be a use of force.
Unifor has made two complaints to the Ontario Labour Relations Board. A hearing has been scheduled for the end of September.
Mr. Gingrich may well be sincere in his views, but his opinion goes too far. For decades, the Ontario Labour Relations Act, like similar statutes across Canada, has established the right of employees to enter a collective-bargaining regime and do so without fear of retaliation.
The OLRB is not likely to force the Gingrich family to stay in business, but it could conclude that the closure is an illegal lockout and award substantial damages to the employees and Unifor.
Freedom of religion has been much in the news lately. Take, for instance, the seemingly endless Charter litigation over Trinity Western University, a Christian university in British Columbia that requires its students to be either married in the traditional heterosexual sense, or celibate. Its decision to open a law school has spawned three court cases across Canada so far.
As controversial as Trinity Western's policy has been, many reasonable people would consider it to be less problematic than Mr. Gingrich's refusal to work with a union on religious grounds.
He should reconsider. The Canadian collective bargaining system, imperfect as it may be, is a way of "living peaceably" within the realm of the possible. It should be respected as an important part of the rule of law in Canada.