Response to CCF commentary on HRC ruling on child rearing issue
The following article was posted on the Canadian Constitution Federation's (CCFs) website [my reply is posted below]:
Human rights decision harms families
Troy Media, February 16, 2011
Many Human Rights Commission decisions produce unintended and harmful consequences. One example is Johnstone v. CBSA, in which the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) made it easier for employees to get their employers over a barrel.
The CHRC - in a decision that will unintentionally make it more difficult for young men and women with families to find good employment - awarded Fiona Johnstone over $35,000 in damages, plus lost wages and benefits because her employer would not bend over backwards to accommodate her request for a specific work schedule after she returned from maternity leave.
Unwilling to compromise
Johnstone has worked for the Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) at Pearson International Airport since 1998. The CBSA's operations at Pearson run 24/7 and employees normally work rotating shifts. Before returning from maternity leave in 2005, Johnstone asked the CBSA to treat her differently by providing her with "static shifts". She requested three fixed 13-hour shifts per week (totalling 39 hours), corresponding with the only three periods when she could arrange for family members to care for her child.
The CBSA was willing to accommodate Johnstone by providing her with three 10-hour static shifts and a four-hour shift on a fourth day. But Johnstone was unsatisfied with this 34-hour compromise. She wanted to continue to work full-time hours, to preserve her pension entitlements, promotion opportunities, and income. She wanted family members - not day-care providers - to care for her child.
In effect, Johnstone wanted to be insulated from the natural consequences of her own life-choices. And, more significantly, she wanted the Canadian taxpayers, her fellow employees, and men and women of similar circumstance to foot the bill for her life-choices. So, she complained to the CHRC.
Johnstone's complaint to the CHRC was successful. She was awarded compensation for "lost" wages and benefits, including overtime and pension contributions, for work she did not do and for wages and benefits she did not earn. She was also given a total of $15,000 for pain and suffering because she was embarrassed that her complaint was construed as a human-rights case. She was awarded a further $20,000 in special damages for the "wilful and reckless conduct" of the CBSA because it sought a compromise position instead of acquiescing to her request for special treatment. In short, she experienced a financial windfall because she refused to find childcare outside of her family.
However, as the old adage goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Since the CBSA is a government agency, any costs awarded against it will ultimately be paid by Canadian taxpayers. In addition, Johnstone's fellow employees will shoulder some of the burden. Since Johnstone was unwilling to work undesirable hours, her fellow employees had to pick up the slack and work those hours in her place. Granting Johnstone a greater degree of flexibility and choice means that other CBSA employees suffered a corresponding lesser degree of flexibility and choice.
Why hire employees with families?
Even though the CHRC carefully stated that its decision applied equally to male and female care-givers, it is doubtful that all men and women will be affected in the same way. Men and women with families will bear more of Johnstone's burden than men and women who do not. Such employees might temporarily leave the workforce to become care-givers or make costly demands, such as "static shifts". And as a direct and unintended result of this CHRC decision, employers cannot be certain that they will receive the same return on costs devoted to training and staffing employees with families and those without. It will be easier to simply look past the job applications of qualified applicants with families. After all, when faced with viable competing alternatives, why not hire an employee that comes with less risk?
Ultimately, it is difficult to see who the real winner is in this CHRC decision. The Canadian taxpayer and the CBSA lose. Johnstone's fellow CBSA employees lose. And many qualified men and women lose.
Perhaps the real winners are those employers looking for an excuse to avoid hiring employees who have families. Unfortunately, this CHRC decision unintentionally provides ample justification for the alienation of the very demographic of which Johnstone is a member.
Derek James From is a Student-at-Law with the Canadian Constitution Foundation
This is my response:
Do you have any children of your own? I wonder if you understand what it is to truly care for your own children. Your article titled, "Human rights decision harms families", while making some good points about measuring consequences of our actions and being careful of what we ask for since what we ask for may have deep implications beyond what we are seeking, falls short of properly representing the interests of the family. Worse yet, your article maligns the character of a woman who is not satisfied with leaving the children she dearly loves in the incapable hands of strangers. She is also not satisfied with the messaging that the government run agency is sending when it says that raising children will mean that you will lose all that you have worked for; to preserve her pension entitlements, promotion opportunities, and income. Raising children is not a selfish act. It is a society serving act. It is extremely hard work, with far reaching consequences if done wrong. In our society, there is a norm, perpetuated by the government, education system and society at large that leaving your children in the hand of strangers to raise, is a good and healthy thing, and that personally investing in the future of children and the nation is somehow selfish and wrong.
Derek, our society has really lost sight of the concept of family values. That this woman wants family members to look after her children rather than strangers, shows a great level of personal responsibility and shows that she wants her children to grow up with out emotional detachment and abandonment issues. It shows that she, while trying to meet the financial demands of raising a family, does not want to compromise her dearly held child rearing standards and ideals. This, Derek, is a good thing that more people should learn from. As a father of six myself, I have seen the fruit that has come from parents around us who are, yes loving parents, but who have decided to have strangers raise their children. I have watched our children grow, as they have been raised exclusively by us, and I have seen the difference between the two. I see the emotional and mental stresses that the children who have been put into institutionalized day cares have gone through and have noted that they are sick more, that they are more stressed out and that they are less confident.
Now Derek, I know that many may disagree with me, and that's unfortunate. Statistics have demonstrated the negative effects of absent parents on children. People may, for selfish reasons, be willing to compromise the mental, emotional and spiritual well being of their children, but I don't think that that is the kind of messaging an article that purports to advocate for families should propagate. Maligning a woman who wants to have her own children raised by loving family members who have a vested interest in ensuring that those children are raised in a loving and compassionate way, with the families values and standards intact, is wrong.
Derek, you obviously are overlooking the value and importance of family based child rearing. It is clear that you do not see the commitment to such child rearing and the desire for children to be raised healthy and whole as important, or perhaps you don't see the connection. It is the child rearing process and methods employed that will either produce delinquents or positive and healthy contributing citizens. It seems clear that you are directly opposed to this mother's decision to employ the higher standard of having her children raised by family members, and feel that this mother has slighted society by making the uncompromising decision she has. On the contrary, society should make allowances for the rearing children by their own family members since it is to benefit all of society, not to mention the well being of the next generation, who will be our future leaders. If this was a private agency who was wronging it's employee the company would need to cover costs of doing so. Government agencies should be no different. The commission clearly ruled in favour of protecting the rights of women who are committed to having their children raised by family members, which is a good thing. Your article, mischaracterizes the ruling and the value of family based child rearing.
Derek, I do hope that you will carefully re-read your article and that you will consider the message you have sent to Canadians about family based child rearing. I also hope that in the process of doing so, you will think long and hard about the children of our nation who are often not considered when it comes to financial matters, except in the liabilities or debts column of the ledger. They are generally looked at as financial decision rather than as what is best for them apart from financial decisions. Children are not liabilities, unless raised improperly, they are people, and due to this fact their spiritual, emotional and physical well being needs to be kept first and foremost in the minds of those who aspire to raise them responsibly and those who have made a point to speak on behalf of the family.
I hope that this letter has given you food for thought and I do, truly, hope that it will help you to see things a little differently.
With all sincerity and concern for the state of the family in Canada and the views of Canadians on the issue, I thank you for your time and kind consideration of my letter to you.
Concerned Christians Canada
Praying, Acting, Making a Difference!