Trudeau calls Ford’s use of notwithstanding clause ‘wrong’

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is questioning Premier Doug Ford’s use of the notwithstanding clause to impose a contract on thousands of education workers, calling the move “wrong.”

The Ford government is actively debating Bill 28, which would impose a four-year contract on 55,000 education support workers, prohibits a strike during the life of the contract, and uses the notwithstanding clause to prevent the union from using the Charter to challenge the legislation in court.

The government claims invoking the rarely used notwithstanding clause is to prevent legal challenges “which may create destabilizing uncertainty for students and families,” but in effect overrides the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which guarantees a union’s ability to negotiate a contract and stage a strike.

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When asked about its use on Parliament Hill, Trudeau said the use of the clause “to suspend workers’ rights is wrong.”

“I know that collective bargaining negotiations are sometimes difficult, but it has to happen,” Trudeau told reporters. “The suspension of people’s rights is something that you should only do in the most exceptional circumstances, and I really hope that all politicians call out the overuse of the notwithstanding clause to suspend people’s rights and freedoms.”

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Justice Minister David Lametti indicated the federal government has the option to challenge Ontario in court, but has yet to make a decision on next steps.

“The use of the notwithstanding clause is very serious. It de facto means that people’s rights are being infringed and it’s being justified,” Lametti said.

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“Using the notwithstanding clause and using it preemptively is exceedingly problematic. It cuts off both political debate and judicial scrutiny, and both of those are problematic in our democracy. Both are essential parts of our democracy.”

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