Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Winnipeg Free Press TORONTO - The recent tensions between Air Canada workers and Lisa Raitt reminded Jim Gallant of the time he gave the federal labour minister a piece of his mind in public. In exchange, the veteran Canada Post worker said he got a pair of RCMP officers knocking on his office door — a response he equated to the sudden suspensions that triggered last week's early-morning wildcat strike at Canada's largest airline. Gallant, 41, from Halifax, said it's evidence of the sort of bullying tactics employed by Raitt and the federal Conservative government. Security experts and RCMP officials, on the other hand, call it little more than standard procedure. Gallant, a regional grievance officer with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers with 23 years at Canada Post, was in Toronto and attending a hockey game at the Air Canada Centre last October when he saw Raitt walking through the concourse. "We had been ordered back to work earlier in the year and I took that opportunity to voice my disgust with government interfering with my place of work," he recalled. "She was very concerned that I was interfering with her in her personal time, and I told her that she had interfered with mine and she was going to hear from me." Gallant said he accused Raitt to her face of lying to the Senate and the House of Commons when explaining why postal employees had to be ordered back to work. The encounter on Oct. 29 lasted about two minutes, he said. "She walked very quickly away from me, and I didn’t chase her or anything, but I did get a little louder so she could hear me as she walked away," he said. "The staff at the Air Canada Centre asked me to stop and I stopped and they took my hockey ticket." Nearly two months later, Gallant said he was working at his office in Halifax when two plainclothes RCMP officers showed up to discuss the Toronto run-in. "I told them I didn’t want to talk to them," he said. "I didn’t know how they found me but afterwards I remembered that I had purchased my hockey tickets on my credit card." Raitt spokeswoman Ashley Kelahear said she could not comment on matters concerning the minister's security. A spokesman for Human Resources and Skills Development Canada later confirmed the incident was reported to police. Gallant said he referred the police officers to his lawyer and said he hasn't heard from them since. He is not facing any charges. Experts and police both say such interviews are basic procedure. Officials routinely report unusual incidents that take place on off-hours, said security consultant Chris Mathers, a former RCMP officer himself. Documenting a confrontational encounter from an unsympathetic member of the public is always prudent, he added. Once the complaint is filed, he said, the matter is entirely in the hands of police. "The minister has no control over that. Like any other citizen, the minute you call the police, you lose control," Mathers said. "Ministers can't direct the police to do anything, there's no way." RCMP sgt. Greg Cox said he could not comment on Gallant's case, but said the interview at his workplace sounds entirely routine. "Any time we receive any complaint, going to speak to someone is obviously just to get the other side of the story," he said. "That's just common police work. It doesn't matter who's involved." On Friday, three Air Canada workers were temporarily suspended for heckling Raitt as she passed through Toronto's Pearson Airport. Those suspensions triggered a wildcat strike by fellow workers angered by the Conservative government bringing in back-to-work legislation and sending their contract dispute with the airline to arbitration. Gallant said he believes the government's handling of the Air Canada labour dispute is similar to the way it approached striking Canada Post workers last year. Those who voice displeasure with the government's tactics run the risk of harassment, he said. "That’s the way the Conservative government works and specifically Ms. Raitt — if anyone says anything it’s either illegal or 'I’m going to get you fired.' Raitt introduced legislation last June to end a dispute at Canada Post that scuttled mail delivery service across the country. The Conservative government cited the fragile economy when they decided to go ahead with a back-to-work bill, a move which the union said took away workers' rights. — With files from Steve Fairbairn and Diana Mehta