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Arbitrator bans button

Eudora Pendergrast — August 1983

Last November, John Evans, a ticket agent with VIA Rail in Toronto’s Union Station, decided to wear a button expressing hit opposition to nuclear war, an opposition presumably shared by those both for and against the current build-up of nuclear weapons. Mr. Evans wore the button, which shows a crossed out mushroom cloud, for just over a day before his employer ordered him to remove it. When Evans refused, he was moved to a backroom job, out of the public eye. After consulting his wife, his lawyer and his union, Evans decided that the most constructive way to pursue the issue was not through defiance but through existing legal channels. He removed the button and filed a grievance with his union, The Canadian Brotherhood of Railway, Transport and General Workers, citing management’s attempt to curtail his freedom of expression, in violation of Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Mr. Evans achieved an important victory in gaining the support of the national office of his union. However, when the matter was taken to arbitration, the ruling handed down by Mr. J.F.W. Weatherhill supported VIA’s right to make Mr. Evans remove his button, on the grounds that VIA passengers should not be subjected to controversial political or social views by either the rail company or its employees. The basis given for this ruling by Mr. Weatherhill is that the rights of free speech and expression have limits which emerge where the exercise of the rights impinges on the rights of others.

In a July 11 press conference responding to the arbitrator’s decision, Mr. Evans stated that “nuclear disarmament is an issue that transcends the limits of politics.” He also questioned why he had been allowed to wear a poppy in remembrance of those who died in past wars to preserve freedom, but was denied the right to exercise the freedom they had gained in order to “do what I can to prevent the next and what will be the last war.” He then removed his button from the front of his jacket lapel and pinned it underneath.

Mr. Evans notes that in the brief period during which he openly wore the button at work, neither he nor VIA Rail received any complaints. In fact, he received two clear expressions of support.

There is a strong parallel, Mr. Evans pointed out, between the arbitrator’s decision and the initial decision of Volkswagen Canada to withdraw its support from the Toronto Symphony following the Sound of Peace concert given by conductor Andrew Davis and other members of The Toronto Symphony. In both eateries, Evans notes, serious efforts to promote peace were treated as expressions of personal political opinion. Presumably, he says, there is no political party that advocates nuclear war. Why then is the advocacy of peace “political?”

Mr. Evans plans to pursue his right to express his views on nuclear war through the courts. Readers of The Peace Calendar who wish to support his effort to wear an anti-nuclear war button on the job can do so by writing M. Pierre Faranche, President, VIA Rail Canada, P.O. Box 8116, 1801 McGill College, Montréal, P.Q., H3C 3N3.

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