Employment, Human Rights and (US) National Security

The US government is sensitive about matters of national security. One of the expressions of this sensitivity is its unwillingness to have certain kinds of work performed by citizens of countries that the US considers likely to be hostile – e.g . Iran, Cuba, Yemen. etc. Thus it is forbidden by US law for companies doing certain kinds of work for some agencies of the US government to hire nationals of those countries for that work.

Canadian law prohibits discrimination in employment on the ground of national origin, among other things. This is governed by human rights codes and employment standards laws, both subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees equal protection of law regardless of national origin etc.

So what do Canadian companies do when they contract with US government agencies for sensitive work? There is a defence sharing agreement between Canada and the US, is there not? Do Canadian companies ignore human rights laws and refuse to offer jobs to people from the US prohibited list, or do they conform with Canadian law and hope the US does not find out? Or is there an exception somewhere to the non-discrimination rule that would apply? Is ability to work for the US government a bona fide occupational requirement?

Are there cases on this? It must come up from time to time.


  1. Gabriel Granatstein

    Yes, absolutely, there is a case on this out of Quebec. See – Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse c. Bombardier inc. (Bombardier Aerospace Training Center), 2010 QCTDP 16 (CanLII). It’s currently being appealed to the Quebec Court of Appeal. An English version of the decision can be found here.

    It’s fascinating. Of course, I do believe that it’s settled law that a Canadian company can not commit unlawful discrimination and use the fact that it was forced on them by a 3rd party as defence.

  2. David Collier-Brown

    A Canadian subsidiary of a (no-longer-extisting) U.S company considered themselves bound by U.S. law, and would only offer Canada-based jobs to landed immigrants who were citizens of North Vietnam.

    The jobs they would not offer involved travel to customers in the U.S. My second- or third-hand understanding is that they could not hire anyone to work in the U.S. who wasn’t allowed to work in the U.S.

    The jobs they would offer were based in Canada, but worked on products available worldwide, including in the Excited States. For those, there were no limitations.

    Similarly, for Canadian citizens who merely came from scary places in the past, there were no limitations