Cowboy Cops in Quebec

For those readers who don’t follow labour disputes in Quebec, there’s been trouble brewing over the Province’s attempts to reign in municipal pension costs via Bill 3. Because Quebec (and all other provincial) labour laws don’t allow “essential services” unions to strike (not surprisingly, because people could die), police, EMT and firefighter unions have been trying creative ways to get their point across. In the Municipality of Chateaugay (just outside of Montreal), the police force has taken to wearing cowboy outfits (photo credit here):

(Alison Northcott/CBC)

(Alison Northcott/CBC)

Not surprisingly, the Municipality protested and filed a grievance. Yesterday, the Quebec Labour Relations Board ruled that it was acceptable for the officers to wear cowboy uniforms as a pressure tactic. While, normal employees would not be permitted to violate their dress code in this way without disciplinary repercussions, essential services employees in Quebec have used these tactics in the past. Montreal police officers have even taken to wearing pink combat pants and jeans to show their “colours” during labour negotiations.

The decision on the Chateaugay Cowboys, published in French here, hinges on the rights of the officers to their freedom of expression and the Administrative Judge’s opinion that the cowboy uniforms would not cause confusion for citizens or create any safety or security issues. Perhaps even more interesting (and maybe troubling) was that the CBC reported that police union spent $25,000 of their member’s dues on those uniforms. They must be real gold stars on their chests.

What are your thoughts? A reasonable use of freedom of expression in face of an inability to strike? A waste of money? Maybe I’m old fashioned, but as a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, I can’t even fathom putting on a costume to pressure my leaders to do something. I hope that now that the Bill has been passed, all police officers will go back to their regular, professional uniforms.


  1. I kinda liked the idea of expressing themselves through cowboy gear … (better than the StarWars gear aimed to intimidate peaceful protestors) … until I saw the price tag for the gear. Then it becomes more “stuff” that the public is paying for … while the public is going without lots. (for instance, basic legal representation as many of the slaw bloggers have written about.) Don’t they have their own costumes that they could express themselves with, at no additional cost to public?

  2. Gabriel Granatstein

    Thanks for your comment. I agree with you on Cowboys v. Storm Troopers. Just one point though – the customers were funded by the union – which is funded by member dues – not the public purse.

  3. While I accept that there is jurisprudence that establishes that government is liable for infringing Charter rights as an employer, I still dislike the use of freedom of expression to allow public servants (Police, Firefighters, Teachers) to engage in activities that private sector employees would not be able to do (e.g. wearing a different uniform as opposed to simply wearing a union button on your uniform). The only difference is the identity of the employer, which is not a rational basis for a different result.

  4. Adrian, I disagree. Private sector employees are not essential and can go on strike if they wish. It’s the essential nature of the service, not the identity of the employer, that serves as the basis for the difference in result.

  5. Whether or not they can go on strike is a side issue. I don’t dispute that police have to try creative ways to get their point across.

    My problem is the fact that police have the protections of the Charter with regards to their employment based expression whereas other employees do not. The reason why the cops in Quebec can wear cowboy hats on the job is because they have Charter protections, not because they are an essential service. This is still an issue whether there is the possibility of a strike or not.