Former Unifor President, Jerry Dias, Charged With Ethics Violations

Jerry Dias, former president of Unifor, has been charged with ethics violations in the Unifor constitution.

In 2017, Freezenet reported on the massive effort to bring Internet censorship into Canada. The mass censorship proposal was backed by the notorious Fair Play Canada coalition. They were basically demanding the power to censor any website they don’t like on the basis of mere accusations of copyright infringement. Even for some members, being associated with such an organization was reason for hesitation.

The efforts to shut down efforts to implement a “Great Firewall of Canada” was wide ranging with thousands of Canadians engaging in coordinated letter writing campaigns to the CRTC, a regulator that the coalition demanded to manage the censorship scheme. What you might not know is that, during the skirmishes around 2018, Freezenet received a threat along the way.

A summary of the events, which we think is fine to post, is that Jerry Dias, then president of Unifor, Canada’s largest union of all things, published comments supporting the mass Internet censorship scheme. Like any responsible journalist, we heard out the comments to see if there was any, in our view, merit to Internet censorship. Unfortunately, we didn’t agree with the comments. We published a response, posting why we disagreed with those comments and basing our comments on how Internet censorship tends to work in practice and the state of technology at that point in time among other things. Shortly after publishing that report, we received a legal threat, demanding we take down our article or face a defamation lawsuit.

Our assessment was that we did nothing wrong. While we were willing to address what was considered defamation, the legal nasty gram didn’t seem to offer any leeway in discussing and working out a reasonable agreement. We attempted to reach out to sources we thought we could trust to help us out to try and find a way forward. Our calls for help went unanswered. So, the situation’s world of suck was magnified by that feeling of a betrayal of trust. The ignored cries for help probably hurt even more than the original complaint.

So, as far as we were concerned, the situation was that we had, for all we knew, an angry affluent multi-millionaire willing to send hundreds of thousands of dollars that sought to not only shut down Freezenet, but leave me destitute for the crime of speaking our mind on something. We had no money and the legal representation which we thought we had was nowhere to be found. The only move to make was to remove the article from the site. This for the sake of trying to preserve Freezenet’s survival as well as my own. We did nothing wrong, but we couldn’t afford to fight for our right to free speech. As is so often the case, human rights are, in practice, only for rich people – not your average working class person such as myself.

It was a pretty difficult point for us knowing that some people who seem to be all in on fighting for free speech and digital rights would rather watch the site burn to the ground rather than stand up for what was right in that situation. What’s more is that all the reputations we helped build and good positive relationships we made along the way seemed to be so easily thrown away once we look like we have reached the end of our usefulness. How could almost anyone we don’t have face to face time with be trusted after what happened? Are people really so quick to drive a knife into our backs at the first available opportunity? At least, that was what we felt and thought at the time.

Towards the end of 2018, however, things started turning for the better. Ultimately, the CRTC rejected the Internet censorship scheme. While the Dias incident was a big low for us, the story ended with that air of how the good guys ended up winning out in the end. Internet censorship was shut down and freedom of speech prevailed. In a landscape such as Canada, a victory for free speech can be rather difficult to achieve. For us, the story had a happy ending and we moved on to the next digital story. As time went on, the memories of that run-in with those threatening lawyers faded and we paid less and less attention to it – even forgetting completely about it eventually.

So, imagine just how caught off guard we were when we saw the national headlines recently. For one, until the story broke about Dias, we had no idea he had left Unifor at some point. What allegedly happened caused our jaw to hit the floor. From the CBC:

An investigation into former Unifor president Jerry Dias found he accepted $50,000 from a supplier of COVID-19 rapid test kits, the union says.

Unifor’s secretary-treasurer Lana Payne said Wednesday Dias then promoted those kits to employers of union members, several of whom purchased them.

On Jan. 20, Dias gave $25,000 to a Unifor employee, who the union is not naming, telling the employee it had come from the supplier. That employee filed a complaint under the union’s code of ethics and delivered the money to the union, Payne says.

After the union’s investigation, conducted by an external independent investigator, Dias stands charged with violating Unifor’s code of ethics and democratic practices, which is contained in its constitution. Unifor’s executive board will now hold a hearing into the matter.

Just before Payne and other Unifor officials announced their findings, Dias issued a statement saying he is entering a residential rehabilitation facility due to his use of alcohol, painkillers and sleeping pills.

Dias retired earlier this month citing medical concerns. “These factors have impaired my judgment in recent months, and I owe it to our members to seek the treatment I need,” Dias said in the statement.

Yeah, wow indeed. We had no inclination or clue that anything even remotely like this was happening. Now, what this could mean for the unions position on digital rights should digital rights issues crop up again is really unclear. It’s even unclear if these issues are going to resurface in any way similar to what we saw throughout 2017 and 2018. After all, the landscape has changed quite a lot since then with vastly different issues at the forefront. Beyond that, one of our main reactions is, “Wow, that happened.”

It is noted that Dias will have hearings at a later date so that he can give his side of the story to the Union Board.

All we really can say is that we wish all the best for Dias in rehabilitation.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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