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Manitoba-Saskatchewan Conference Lends Legal Support in Religious Liberty Accomodation

By Clifford Holm

One of the historic teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist Church that had its roots in the labour unrest of the mid-nineteenth century is that church members should not join or financially support trade
unions. There were many good reasons for the Adventist Church to take this position, but simply put it was formulated on the basis that the activities and policies of trade unions were incompatible with the principles and counsels set forth in the Scriptures. This continues to be the official position of the Adventist Church today.

In support of this counsel, the Man-Sask Conference over the years has provided legal assistance to numerous church members in both Manitoba and Saskatchewan who faced union membership issues. In most cases, we have been able to resolve the matter by way of a consent order whereby the church member is exempted from membership in the trade union on the condition that an amount equal to union dues is paid to a designated charity.

Occasionally, we are unable to negotiate a consent order with the trade union and the matter then proceeds to a formal hearing before a Labour Relations Board tribunal. Such was the case recently for Amber Rocca, a member of the Saskatoon Central Adventist Church.

Amber made application to the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board pursuant to Section 5(l) of The Trade Union Act for an order excluding her from membership in the trade union and providing for the payment of union dues to a charity. Attempts were made to negotiate a consent order with the trade union but to no avail. The application was finally set down for a formal hearing before a panel of three adjudicators from the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board on February 17, 2011.

In support of Amber’s application, Collin Akre, Executive Secretary of the Man-Sask Conference, was called to present evidence regarding the teaching of the Adventist Church with respect to trade unions.

Amber then took the stand and ably explained her background and religious beliefs to the Tribunal. She also faced vigorous cross-examination fromthe lawyer representing the trade union.

The trade union took the position that Amber had not stated unequivocally that membership in the trade union would be irreconcilable with her religious beliefs and therefore her application should be denied. The Tribunal found otherwise, stating:

“In our opinion, the evidence demonstrated that participation in a trade union would represent an irrevocable conflict for the Applicant and that her beliefs in this regard were genuinely held and rooted in the theology of her church. During cross-examination, when asked what she would do if she was forced to join the Union, while her words articulated a “difficult decision”, the change in the Applicant’s demeanor, the quivering in her voice, and the expression on her face, spoke volumes of a deeply religious person being forced into an irreconcilable conflict between the teachings of her church and her desire to pursue her chosen profession. In our opinion, the purpose of s.5(l) of the Act is to prevent persons, such as the Applicant, from being placed into that kind of very difficult dilemma. ”

In the end, the Labour Relations Tribunal granted Amber’s application, for which we were all grateful. It certainly wasn’t easy for Amber to take the stand and be subjected to cross-examination regarding her faith. But her persistence has resulted in a precedent setting decision which will hopefully be of great assistance in all future applications. It has been said that “eternal vigilance is the price
of liberty”. Please continue to pray for and support the work of protecting our religious freedoms while we are able.

Reprinted with permission from Prairie Horizons, a monthly publication of the Manitoba-Saskatchewan Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.