The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms requires that municipal governments neither “favour nor hinder any particular belief, and the same holds true for non-belief”: Mouvement laïque québécois v Saguenay (City), 2015 SCC 16, at para. 72. This fact was initially ignored by the Mayor of the City of Yorkton and its municipal officials in the case of Parkland Right to Life v. City of Yorkton.
On September 5, 2017, the President of Parkland Right to Life, Ted Deneschuk requested to appear before Yorkton City Council and provide oral submissions in support of an application to have the City proclaim the week of October 1-7, 2017 as “Right for Life” week.
On September 6, 2017, City officials informed Mr. Deneschuk that the City had decided to deny his request. In a letter sent to Mr. Deneschuk on September 6, the City stated that his request was denied because a “Right for Life” week proclamation would contravene section 3.B.ii of the City’s Proclamation Policy. The Policy states that proclamations will not be issued for “[matters] of political controversy, ideological, or religious beliefs or individual, [sic] conviction”.
Notwithstanding the Proclamation Policy, the City has made a practice of issuing proclamations for subject which could be viewed as controversial, ideological and religious subjects. For example, the week of March 26-April 1, 2017 was proclaimed by the City as “Gender Diversity Week” and May 13, 2017 was proclaimed as “Falun Dafa Day”.
By mislabeling the proposed “Right for Life” week, and its associated pro-life viewpoint, as a “matter of political controversy, ideological, or religious beliefs or individual conviction”, but issuing proclamations regarding the belief in alternative genders (which remains deeply controversial in Canada) and Buddhist spiritual meditation, the City violated its duty of neutrality, acted in a biased and arbitrary fashion, and engaged in the very favouritism prohibited by the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Justice Centre made a formal request for the City of Yorkton to reverse its rejection of Parkland Right to Life’s application to have a “Right for Life” week. The Justice Centre’s letter, which was sent to the City on Tuesday, October 10, states that, “[the] City of Yorkton’s discrimination against pro-life views and Mr. Deneschuk is unlawful.” The letter requests that the City reverse its arbitrary and biased decision to deny Mr. Deneschuk’s application, and grant the application to proclaim a “Right for Life” week on the first available week.
On October 30, 2017, the City of Yorkton council voted to proclaim the week of October 29 – November 4, 2017 as “Respect for Life Week.” The vote passed with the Mayor and one councillor opposed.