Canadian News

Not going gentle into the night

David Folster November 20 1978
Canadian News

Not going gentle into the night

David Folster November 20 1978

Not going gentle into the night

Bureaucracy

Will you still need me, will you still feed me when I’m 64, sang the Beatles a decade ago—but for a growing number of Canadians the more relevant age is 65.

For instance, a machinist at Flyer Industries, a bus-building firm in Winnipeg, complained to the provincial Human Rights Commission when the company ordered him off the job at three score years and five. A special board, appointed by the provincial attorneygeneral, ruled last year that such mandatory retirement is discriminatory and contravenes the Human Rights Act. Result: the bus firm had to back down.

Now a respected government employee in Manitoba is fighting the system and refusing to be branded as redundant for mere chronological considerations. Aubrey Newport, deputy registrar and clerk of the Manitoba Court of Appeal, earning $16,400 a year, was supposed to retire Oct. 31. Instead, he showed up for work the next day at his usual early starting time of 7:05 a.m.—but an hour later, so did an official of the attorney-general’s department, who told Newport he no longer had the power to sign court documents and warned him that if he didn’t clear out an application would be made for an injunction preventing him from entering the premises. Newport left quietly, saying he’d be back to fight another day. And he’s doing just that.

The law in question is the provincial Civil Service Act, which fixes 65 as mandatory retirement age for public employees. Newport’s lawyer, Harvey Pollock, says the act is in direct conflict with the Manitoba Human Rights Act and if necessary they’ll go to court to prove it. That could be embarrassing for the government because Newport might eventually find himself up before his own court. Earlier this year four justices of the Manitoba Court of Appeal endorsed a letter to the attorney-general asking that Newport be allowed to work beyond age 65, describing him as “the best clerk of the court that we’ve had for many years.” And the touchy fact is the sympathetic judges themselves don’t face retirement until age 75. Moreover, Newport (who has already retired once in his career—that was in 1966 after 25 years with the RCMP) admits he had originally planned to quit the court at 65 but changed his mind after the judges asked him to stay on. “I felt I’d given them my word to

continue and I never go back on my word.”

The Manitoba Human Rights Commission refuses to hear Newport’s case because it says the provincial Civil Service Act takes precedence over the Human Rights Act; it further argues that last year’s precedent giving the bus mechanic back his job applies only to the private sector. Or in other words, provincial rulings apply to everybody but the provincial government.

Pollock says the next stop is the Court of Queen’s Bench to try to force the commission to hear the case. And since his 65-year-old client feels equally fit to clerk a court or fight in one, if necessary they’ll take their case to the Supreme Court in Ottawa.

Peter Carlyle-Gordge

jjj ast week, 1,500 miles east of WinniL~j peg, another forcibly “retired” civil servant was trying to fight his way through bureaucratic red tape and get his job back. Garth Brewer’s offence was not being too old (he’s only 40), but being too political. The day after he was defeated in his bid as an NDP candidate in New Brunswick’s Oct. 23 election, Brewer was suspended from his duties as a customs officer at the U.S. border crossing near Woodstock, and a few days after that he was fired.

A self-described “community activist” who is a school board member as well as president of the local NDP riding

association, Brewer had long planned to run provincially when the chance came, although he had no real hope of winning—the NDP has never elected a member to the provincial house. He also knew that under Section 32 of the federal Public Service Employment Act he should formally ask permission to engage in political activity, and did so 10 days after the election was called Sept. 15. He regarded his request for leave without pay as a mere formality. “I couldn’t imagine that they would ever refuse me,” he says. They did, though, but official notice didn’t reach him until a week before the election—by which time he felt it was a little late to withdraw.

Brewer admits he was warned during the campaign that his job might be in

jeopardy, but protests: “It is an unjust law—I just can’t believe Section 32 is designed to control the political activities of somebody like me.” The government told him, however, that it couldn’t be certain his usefulness as a customs inspector would not be impaired by his candidacy. Said Brewer sardonically, while preparing a formal grievance against his dismissal last week, “I guess they thought I was liable to let NDPers smuggle, but not Liberals or

Conservatives.” David Folster