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Index

Gabor Lukacs v. Canadian Transportation Agency

Judicial Committee of the Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses & Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses v. Randy Wall

Nicholas Troller v. Manitoba Public Insurance

Cornerstone Christian Academy v. Battle River School Division

Derek and Frances Baars v. Hamilton Children’s Aid Society

Lorne Grabher v. Nova Scotia Registrar of Motor Vehicles

Independent Baptist Academies v. Minister of Education

Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada v. College of Physicians

Kisilowsky v. Manitoba

Servatius v. School District 70

UAlberta Pro-Life v. University of Alberta

Ryerson Men’s Issues Awareness Society v. Ryerson Students’ Union

Speak for the Weak v. Student Association at Durham College and University of Ontario Institute of Technology

Students for Life v. University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union

Gabor Lukacs v. Canadian Transportation Agency

Should a government agency be able to delete posts from its public Facebook page simply because it doesn’t like them?

The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) is a government agency which uses social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, to “encourage communications between [the public] and the Agency.”  The CTA repeatedly stated that it “is committed to an open and transparent dialogue with Canadians and welcomes a variety of perspectives and opinions.” Additionally, CTA has stated:

We believe that only by being open to challenge, debate and a free and honest exchange of ideas can we ensure that we are serving Canadians to the best of our ability.

On its Facebook page, CTA regularly posts public announcements about the Agency, tips on air travel and links to various webpages.  Members of the public frequently comment on CTA’s Facebook posts and occasionally CTA replies to those comments.  These communications are all public, allowing members of the public to interact with the Agency and with each other.

One would think that this Facebook page for a government agency would be a banner for transparent and accountable government and free speech (particularly in light of CTA’s statements).  Unfortunately, CTA’s recent actions have shattered that perception.

Dr. Gabor Lukacs and his Air Passenger Rights network are a group of citizens concerned that airlines frequently act with impunity in violation of air passenger rights and contract law. Lukacs feels that the Agency is not fulfilling its role to hold airlines accountable for improper or unlawful practices.

In May of 2017, Dr. Lukacs published an article “5 Reasons not to Trust the Canadian Transportation Agency”. The article listed five concerns with the CTA: 1) Institutional Bias, 2) Track Record of Lack of Enforcement, 3) Vice-Chair: Former Airline Lobbyist, 4) Manager of Enforcement: On First-Name Basis with Industry, and 5) Chief Dispute Officer: Lawyer Suspended for Misconduct. As he posted comments on the CTA’s Facebook page, Dr. Lukacs would occasionally post a link to the article.

On July 5, 2017, Dr. Lukacs received a private Facebook message from an unnamed individual purporting to be the CTA Social Media Coordinator using the Facebook name of “Cta Otc”.  The message told Dr. Lukacs that a number of his comments “directly targeted a number of Agency employees that draw their integrity into question.”  It further informed him that these posts violated CTA’s Use of Media policy, and that if they continued, “the Agency will block your future access to comment on our Facebook and Twitter channels.”

On July 19, 2017, Dr. Lukacs received another Facebook message from a person purporting to be the CTA Social Media Coordinator, telling him that his posting of “5 Reasons not to Trust the Canadian Transportation Agency” did not comply with their guidelines and was being removed.  The message did not explain what “personal information” or “unproven or inaccurate accusations” were made in the article.  The message warned Dr. Lukacs to “stop posting references to the article” or his account would be blocked.

On July 28, 2017, the CTA made the following public post on its Facebook page:

Comments with links to “5 Reasons Not To Trust The Agency” will be deleted as it is deemed to be in breach of our social media policy, as well as Facebook’s Community Guidelines, based on:
• It is repetitive or spam;
• Contains references to personal information;
• Puts forward serious, unproven or inaccurate accusations against individuals or organizations;
• Do not, in our opinion, add to the normal flow of the discussion.

CTA removed comments with links to, or that referred to, the article, and blocked Dr. Lukacs from posting on the CTA’s Facebook page.

The Justice Centre reached out to Dr. Lukacs to offer its pro bono legal services in order to defend his free expression rights, and those of all Canadians. The Justice Centre sent a warning letter to the Canadian Transportation Agency on September 13, 2017. In its letter, the Justice Centre requests that the Agency cease its unconstitutional censorship and change its Use of Social Media policy to properly respect Charter-protected freedom of expression.

The Justice Centre’s letter explains that the CTA’s censorship of Dr. Lukacs is unlawful, as the CTA is a government body and is required to respect freedom of expression, guaranteed under section 2(b) of the Charter. CTA’s Use of Social Media policy violates section 2(b) of the Charter by prohibiting, for example, comments that include “serious … accusations”, that are “offensive”, “irrelevant” or that do not “add to the normal flow of the discussion.”  Further the Justice Centre warns that “[s]hould CTA choose rather to continue to violate Dr. Lukacs’ constitutional freedom, we will have no alternative but to pursue further steps to defend our client’s rights.”

Judicial Committee of the Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses & Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses v. Randy Wall

The Justice Centre has been granted intervenor status in the case of the Judicial Committee of the Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses & Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses v. Randy Wall, which will be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada on November 2, 2017.

Randy Wall became a Jehovah’s Witness (JW) in 1980, at the age of 20.  In 2014, he was disfellowshipped (expelled) after a local church committee determined that he was not sufficiently repentant for having been drunk and verbally abusive to his wife.

Mr. Wall appealed his expulsion to a higher committee within the JW organization, and ultimately to the governing Watchtower Society of Canada, without success.  He then took the JWs to court, arguing that he had been wrongly expelled, and that the hearings and the process were unfair.  As a realtor, Mr. Wall also claimed to have lost about half of his client base, because JWs now refused to have any business dealings with him, or even speak with him.

Rather than recognize that freedom of association prevents government (including courts) from interfering with the membership decisions of private associations, the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench ruled that it had the jurisdiction to review the JWs’ membership decision.  This ruling was affirmed by the Alberta Court of Appeal.

The Justice Centre will argue before the Supreme Court of Canada from its unique and non-religious perspective that freedom of association under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Alberta Bill of Rights guarantees the freedom of private, voluntary associations, including the Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, to determine membership criteria, to determine which individuals meet the criteria for membership, and to enforce these membership criteria, immune from judicial review. In consequence, neither courts nor governments can legally compel citizens to associate together unwillingly.

The Justice Centre’s will argue that freedom of association benefits not only religious institutions, but also Canada’s atheists and agnostics, and the many theists who do not embrace any particular religion. Improper judicial oversight in the instant case threatens every private organization and association in Canada.

Nicholas Troller v. Manitoba Public Insurance

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF.ca) Centre has filed a court application against Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) on behalf of Winnipeg resident Nicholas Troller, whose personalized Star Trek licence plate was deemed “offensive” by MPI.

Mr. Troller, an enthusiast of Star Trek, applied and paid the required fee to receive the personalized licence plate “ASIMIL8” in 2015.  MPI approved his application and issued the plate.  Mr. Troller installed the plate on his family vehicle, along with a licence plate border that stated “WE ARE THE BORG” and “RESISTANCE IS FUTILE”.  The plate and accompanying border are a reference to Star Trek.

As stated in his filed Affidavit, Mr. Troller has been approached by many people commenting positively on the plate and asking for pictures with it.  The plate was renewed by MPI in 2016 without question or concern.

On April 26, 2017, Mr. Troller received a letter from MPI informing him that the plate “is considered offensive.”  The letter does not say why the plate is considered offensive, or by whom. In its letter, MPI informed Mr. Troller that he had until May 1, 2017, to surrender his plate, and did not provide him any recourse to appeal its decision.

The Justice Centre wrote to MPI on May 29, 2017 demanding that it reinstate Mr. Troller’s licence plate no later than June 9, 2017. MPI responded on July 7, stating it was “unable to reinstate the plate as requested”.

Nicholas Troller seeks a declaration from the Court that MPI’s decision to revoke his personalized plate is a violation of his Charter-protected right to free expression. The court application further seeks reinstatement of Mr. Troller’s plate, and/or a quashing of the initial decision to revoke.

Mr. Troller has first-hand experience with the unreasoning grind of bureaucracy, noting in his Affidavit:

The irony of the rescission of my freedom of expression is not lost on me: I have been assimilated by the bureaucratic machine. The expression on the Plate has been subsumed and erased. Like the Borg, MPI is vastly more powerful than I. And like the Borg, it feels no need to explain itself to the people in its path when it suddenly reverses course.

This matter has been adjourned for the purposes of conducting cross examinations. Further Court dates pending.

Cornerstone Christian Academy v. Battle River School Division

Founded in 1986, Cornerstone Christian Academy (CCA) is a school in Kingman, Alberta, one-hour south-east of Edmonton.  It provides K-12 education for approximately 180 students.

Parents in Camrose, Tofield and other towns have chosen to send their children to CCA because they agree with the school’s commitment to integrate knowledge of the Bible and its relevance into the approved Alberta curriculum.

In 2009, CCA entered into an agreement with the public school board, the Battle River School Division (BRSD), pursuant to provincial legislation which encourages school boards to incorporate “alternative programs”.  Alberta law provides parents with choices to have their children attend various alternative programs, which focus on sports, art, music, foreign languages, different religions, etc.

In 2017, BRSD issued a demand that CCA should not read or study “any scripture that could be considered offensive to particular individuals,” and suggested that CCA was not in compliance with the School Act and human rights legislation.

The BRSD dismissed an eight-page legal letter sent by the Justice Centre on June 8, on behalf of CCA, stating: “As for the board’s [BRSD’s] position it remains the same.” Consequently, CCA went public, and following a public meeting, BRSD agreed to meet with CCA.

Following two face-to-face meetings between BRSD and CCA representatives, BRSD agreed to issue a joint statement with CCA indicating that “[n]either the Board nor BRSD employees will censor the reading or teaching of the Bible at Cornerstone School.”  The statement also noted that “[a] productive dialogue occurred and both parties are eager to continue to work together.” The statement was made available to parents and staff at CCA.

On Friday, June 23, BRSD presented CCA with a proposed “Addendum” to the BRSD-CCA Agreement, to prohibit public disclosure of information in the future.

CCA responded on June 27, stating, in part, that “the Proposed Addendum seems to be a gag order, which we believe is inappropriate in the context of interactions between a representative parent Society and a public school Board.  The Society represents a community of people who have a vested interest in issues affecting CCA, and consequently we can not agree to the requirements and broad restrictions in the Proposed Addendum.”

On June 29, 2017, BRSD notified CCA that it was terminating the Agreement between BRSD and the CCA Society.  This means that, unless the decision is reversed, BRSD will no longer operate Cornerstone Christian Academy as of June 30, 2018.

The written legal agreement between CCA and BRSD serves to fulfil the Alberta legislature’s stated objective to support diversity and parent choice through alternative programs.  Under Alberta law, these alternative programs include schools dedicated to various religious teachings (including Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism and Islam), sports, differing educational philosophies, etc.

In its agreement with CCA agreement, BRSD promises: “The Board will not attempt to change the essential nature of the CCA program, as set out in the agreed upon School Vision and Purpose as outlined in Schedule A.”   The School Vision and Purpose document clearly commits Cornerstone to be a Christian School, based on teaching from the Bible.

CCA was successful in ensuring that BRSD would not censor the teaching or reading of the Bible in Cornerstone Christian Academy.  However, as it currently stands, on account of BRSD’s decision, Cornerstone Christian Academy will be shut down in June 2018.

CCA is currently considering its options in order to keep Cornerstone Christian Academy open.

Derek and Frances Baars v. Hamilton Children’s Aid Society

Derek and Frances Baars have filed a court application against the Hamilton Children’s Aid Society (CAS), which violated the Charter rights of the Baars by closing down their foster home because the couple refused to tell the girls in their care that the Easter Bunny is a real entity.

In 2015, Derek and Frances Baars completed thorough training on foster parenting.  CAS completed a “homestudy”, which included numerous interviews and home visits over a period of several months.

The Baars welcomed two sisters, ages three and four, into their home in December 2015.  The sisters were temporarily separated from their biological parents, with the goal of returning them to live with their parents again in the future.  A weekly journal was passed back and forth between the Baars and the biological parents, who made various requests that the Baars carried out.

The Baars are devout Christians and had informed CAS that they do not celebrate Halloween.  CAS said this was not a problem; someone else could take the girls trick-or-treating if the biological parents requested this.  CAS had also noted in its Homestudy Report that the Baars “do not endorse Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny as they do not wish to lie to children.”

“From the beginning, it was our delight to have the girls with us.  We loved them from the moment that they came to us,” states Frances Baars in an affidavit filed this week in the court application against CAS.  The Baars regularly took the girls to a park near their home, attended and hosted playdates with other girls of similar age, played educational games, and painted with them, which provided hours of entertainment.

CAS’s Support Worker Tracey Lindsay visited the Baars and the girls, and acknowledged that they looked well cared for in all respects.  However, Ms. Lindsay informed the Baars that it was part of their duty as foster parents to teach the girls about the Easter Bunny, because she considered it part of Canadian culture.  The Baars informed Ms. Lindsay that they intended to hide chocolate eggs and have the girls find them at Easter, and play other games.  The Baars planned not to speak to the girls about the Easter Bunny at all, unless the girls specifically asked questions about this

In late February 2016, Ms. Lindsay informed the Baars that the girls would be taken away, and their foster home permanently closed, if the Baars refused to inform the girls proactively that the Easter Bunny is a real entity.  Ms. Lindsay’s demand was known to CAS, and was supported by her superiors.  All this despite the fact that the biological parents had never expressed a desire for the girls to be told that the Easter Bunny is real.

The Baars offered to let the girls stay with another foster family over the Easter period.  Ms. Lindsay refused.  On March 3, 2016, Ms. Lindsay told the Baars that their foster home would be shut down, and the girls would be taken away the next morning.  The Baars requested a transition period of more than 24 hours, believing that a sudden change would be unwise and inappropriate for the girls.  Ms. Lindsay refused.

As Frances Baars explains it in her affidavit:

We had poured our lives into taking care of the girls.  To have them suddenly ripped away from us was deeply painful. … It was the days after they left that the house felt empty without them. I lacked desire to do anything. As remains of their belongings kept popping up—we had so little time to pack the girls’ belongings that we weren’t able to collect everything—it finally struck me that they weren’t coming back. Several weeks later the girls’ worker stopped by to pick up their remaining belongings, including the scrapbooks I had made for the girls, which I had purposely held on to so I could finish the scrapbooks before sending them on. The scrapbooks were my final way of showing our love and care, and to provide them with reminders of all the good times we had together. A picture of the girls is still on our fridge, so we can remember the happy times we shared.

The Baars asked Ms. Lindsay if they could keep their foster home open just for infants, or for families that do not celebrate the cultural practices of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.  Ms. Lindsay refused.

As recently as January of 2017, the Hamilton Children’s Aid Society has continued to struggle with a severe shortage of foster parents in Hamilton.

“The Hamilton Children’s Aid Society needs to be held accountable for its misguided emphasis on a single, minor issue,” stated Calgary lawyer and Justice Centre president John Carpay.

“People can be good foster parents even if they refuse to say that the Easter Bunny is real, especially with the pressing shortage of foster parents which the Hamilton Children’s Aid Society itself has spoken about publicly,” continued Carpay.

Lorne Grabher v. Nova Scotia Registrar of Motor Vehicles

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF.ca) has filed a court application against the Nova Scotia Registrar of Motor Vehicles (the “Registrar”) after it refused to reinstate the personalized licence plate of Dartmouth, NS pensioner Lorne Grabher, whose surname was deemed too “socially unacceptable” for the road.

Lorne Grabher first purchased the personalized license plate as a gift for his late father in 1991.  It has since become a source of family pride, spanning three generations – Grabher’s son has the family name on his own personalized Alberta license plate.

Mr. Grabher received a letter dated December 9, 2016, from the Office of the Registrar of Motor Vehicles which stated that a complaint had been received regarding his personalized license plate. As a result of the complaint, the Registrar decided to cancel Mr. Grabher’s plate, despite acknowledging it was an explicit reference to Mr. Grabher’s surname. The reason provided for the cancellation was that the plate could be “misinterpreted” as a “socially unacceptable slogan”.

The Justice Centre wrote to the Registrar on March 31, 2017. In its letter, the Justice Centre calls out the Registrar’s decision as “discriminatory,” “arbitrary,” “unreasonable” and in violation of free expression as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It further states that the decision is “an affront to the dignity of Canadians, and particularly those Canadians who are not of Anglo-Saxon descent.” The letter advised the Registrar to reinstate the plate or face further legal action. The Registrar responded on April 6, 2017, indicating that it would not voluntarily reinstate Mr. Grabher’s plate.

On behalf of Mr. Grabher, the Justice Centre filed a Notice of Application with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court on May 11, 2017. A hearing date is scheduled for February 1, 2018. Prior to the application hearing, the Respondent intends to bring an Application under Rule 12 to determine a point of law as to whether the matter can proceed by way of Application or if it must proceed by Judicial Review. The Motion was heard on September 6, 2017 and granted by court order on September 12, 2017.

Forthcoming dates:

October 31, 2017 – deadline for filing of all affidavits

November 8, 2017 – deadline for any rebuttal material by Lorne Grabher

December 31, 2017 – deadline for concluding cross-examinations on affidavits

January 8, 2018 – deadline for filing of Lorne Grabher’s brief

January 18, 2018 – deadline for filing of Nova Scotia’s brief

September 5-6, 2018 – substantive hearing of the application, on the merits

Independent Baptist Academies v. Minister of Education

The Justice Centre has responded to an Order that Alberta Education Minister David Eggen issued to two Edmonton-area private Christian schools, in regard to Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs).

On November 14, 2016, Minister Eggen received a Report from Edmonton lawyer Dan Scott, who had been asked to conduct an Inquiry into Harvest Baptist Academy and Meadows Baptist Academy, both operated by the Independent Baptist Christian Education Society (“IBCES”).  Together the two schools have 84 students, of whom only seven are high-school aged (grades 7-12).  Dan Scott’s Report concludes that both of these schools have been, and are currently, in legislative compliance with the School Act.  On March 22, 2017, Minister Eggen issued an Order telling the schools to comply with the School Act.

In a letter responding to the Minister’s Order, the Justice Centre points out the Minister’s failure to comply with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (“FOIPP Act”), under which Eggen was ordered to release the report by February 6, 2017.  Further, the two schools in respect of which the Report was written did not receive the Report prior to its release to the media and general public.  Calgary lawyer and Justice Centre president John Carpay describesthis as “a lack of courtesy and professionalism.”

The Justice Centre has drawn attention to the 2015 Supreme Court of Canada decision in Loyola High School v. Quebec, in which the Court held that the government cannot “undermine the character of lawful religious institutions and disrupt the vitality of religious communities”, including religious schools. The Court was unanimous in finding that the Education Minister in that case had unlawfully limited freedom of religion.

The Justice Centre further refers the Minister to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.  Canada’s Constitution also recognizes the right of parents to impart their values to their children through religious schools, regardless of how popular or unpopular that religion’s teachings may be at a particular time or place.

The Court in Loyola quoted from Article 18(4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Canada ratified in 1976, and which requires governments to “undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents to … ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.”  This Covenant is legally binding on Canada and other party states.

In March of 2016, every school in Alberta submitted its anti-bullying policies to the Education Minister.  Catholic schools have submitted policies that do not allow GSAs to be set up in Catholic schools.  Muslim, Jewish, Christian and other religious schools have submitted similar policies, insisting that student clubs must be respectful of the school’s beliefs and values.

The Justice Centre’s letter reiterates the request from the two Edmonton-area Christian schools, and other private religious schools, to meet face-to-face with the Education Minister.

Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada v. College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario

The Justice Centre has been granted intervenor status in two related cases in Ontario brought by the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada (“CMDS”) and others against the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (the “CPSO”) (Court File Nos.: 499-16 and 500-16 in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice).

The CPSO has adopted policies that require medical practitioners to (1) provide “an effective referral” for medical procedures and services, even if those services conflict with a doctor’s conscientious or religious beliefs, and even to perform such services when “necessary to prevent imminent harm”; and (2) provide “an effective referral” for physician-assisted suicide, also known as Medical Assistance in Dying (“MAID”). The Justice Centre’s intervention in these two cases will focus on the Supreme Court’s repeated rulings that there is no Charter right to health care.  We make the point that there is therefore no Charter right to any medical procedure, including MAID.  Further, there is no right, Charter or otherwise, to demand that an individual doctor perform or provide an “effective referral” for a specific medical procedure or service that violates that doctor’s conscientious or religious beliefs.  On the contrary, doctors have protected conscience and religious rights under section 2(a) of the Charter, and government bodies like the College are required to respect those Charter freedoms. This case was heard June 13-15. The Court’s judgment is pending.

Kisilowsky v. Manitoba

The Justice Centre is representing a former Manitoba Marriage Commissioner, Kevin Kisilowsky, who lost his licence to perform marriages after he indicated that, based on his religious beliefs, he was unable to perform same-sex ceremonies.

Apart from Mr. Kisilowsky and a very small number of other marriage commissioners, almost all of Manitoba’s more than 1,000 marriage commissioners are willing and able to provide same-sex ceremonies. There is no need for Manitoba to require each and every marriage commissioner to be willing to provide this service. Mr. Kisilowsky is asking only that the government provide reasonable accommodation for him, as other provinces have done for their marriage commissioners, without imposing hardship on any party.

Servatius v. School District 70

In September of 2015, Candice Servatius received a letter from the principal of John Howitt Elementary School (JHES) in Port Alberni, BC, where her two children attend.  The letter informed parents that JHES would be hosting a “Traditional Nuu-chah-nulth Classroom/Student Cleansing” performed by a “Nuu-chah-nulth Member” in the school’s classrooms. The letter did not provide a date for when these cleansing rituals would take place.

The letter from the school described specific beliefs of the Nuu-chah-nulth: “everything is one, all is connected” and “everything has a spirit.”  The school’s letter described in detail how the cleansing ritual would “cleanse” the classroom of “energy” and cleanse the students’ “spirits.” The letter claimed that without cleansing, the classroom and even the furniture would harbour negative “energy” and would not be safe until the “energy” was “released.” The letter stated that each student would participate in the cleansing ritual by holding onto a cedar branch while having “smoke from Sage fanned over [their] body and spirit.”  Agree or disagree with these beliefs as you wish, but there is no denying that these aboriginal teachings are as “religious” as any that might be found in the Bible or Koran.

Concerned about the explicitly religious nature of the cleansing ritual, Mrs. Servatius went to the school to learn more.  She was shocked to find out that this “cleansing ritual” had already been imposed on her children.

Her daughter explained that she had been coerced by the teacher to participate in the cleansing ritual. When Mrs. Servatius’ daughter expressed to her teacher that she did not want to participate, the teacher told Mrs. Servatius’ daughter that it would be “rude” not to participate in the religious ritual and that “all” the students were “required” to participate.

In January of 2016, Mrs. Servatius learned from her children that a prayer based on Aboriginal spirituality had been performed at a JHES student assembly, with explicit references to an unspecified “god”.  JHES did not notify parents.

School District 70 denies that these religious ceremonies and prayers are violating the religious freedom of Mrs. Servatius and her children, and claims that these are merely “cultural”.

The School District’s claim that these are cultural practices is true, but misses the point. There is a world of difference between teaching children about Islam, and requiring children to kneel on prayer rugs in the direction of Mecca and say a prayer to Allah.  In similar fashion, students can benefit from learning about aboriginal religious beliefs without being coerced to participate in religious rituals and ceremonies.

The fact that a religious ritual like smudging might also be “cultural” is irrelevant to whether religious freedom has been violated, according to the Supreme Court of Canada.  In Mouvement laique quebecois v. City of Saguenay, the court ruled that “the state must neither encourage nor discourage any form of religious conviction whatsoever.  If the state adheres to a form of religious expression under the guise of cultural or historical reality or heritage, it breaches its duty of neutrality.”

In Saguenay, an atheist adult won the right to be spared the indignity of being present while City Councillors said a non-denominational prayer that was opened and concluded with the words “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”  He was not required to participate in the prayer, unlike Mrs. Servatius’ children, one of whom was told by her teacher that it would be “rude” to refuse the “cleansing” of her “spirit” by Sage smoke.

The Saguenay ruling rejected a compromise policy to have the atheist leave the Council Chambers during the prayer, because this exacerbates discrimination: “If he chose to exclude himself from the prayer either by refusing to participate in it or by leaving the chamber, he would be forced to reveal that he is a non-believer… Such interference constitutes an infringement of the complainant’s freedom of conscience and religion.”

In spite of the cultural benefits that might flow from having children say the Lord’s Prayer in schools, courts have interpreted the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as including a right to be “free from” religion.  That means not coercing children or adults to participate in any religious prayer, ritual, ceremony or practice.

The violation of religious freedom through the imposition of prayer on children in the classroom cannot be avoided by providing exemptions to excuse some children from participation.  The Ontario Court of Appeal in 1988 ruled in Zylberberg v. Sudbury Board of Education that mandated religious practices violate the religious freedom of students and parents, even if students have the right to be exempted from participating in the religious practice.  The court ruled that “Peer pressures, and the desire to conform, are notoriously effective with children. Does common experience not tell us that these things are so, and that such feelings might easily, and reasonably, lead some not to seek exemption, and unwillingly conform, or others to seek it, and be forced to suffer the consequences to their feelings and convictions? … The peer pressure and the class-room norms to which children are acutely sensitive, in our opinion, are real and pervasive … Thus the excusal provision in its operation subjects [non-conforming children] to a cruel dilemma.  In consequence, even devout children may well avoid claiming their right and simply continue to participate in exercises distasteful to them because of an understandable reluctance to be stigmatized as atheists or nonconformists simply on the basis of their request. …  children are disinclined at this age to step out of line or to flout “peer-group norms”. … The requirement that pupils attend religious exercises, unless exempt, compels students and parents to make a religious statement. … the exemption provision imposes a penalty on pupils from religious minorities who utilize it by stigmatizing them as non-conformists and setting them apart from their fellow students … the conclusion is inescapable that the exemption provision fails to mitigate the infringement of freedom of conscience and religion.”

In November of 2016, the Justice Centre filed a Petition with the BC Supreme Court in Nanaimo, BC.  Mrs. Servatius seeks a declaration that the actions of School District 70 in forcing her children to participate in a cleansing ritual and be subject to religious prayer have violated her and her children’s religious freedom.

The School District argues that children benefit from learning about aboriginal cultures, including aboriginal religions.  Yes, and one can teach kids about aboriginal religious beliefs without hosting religious rituals and ceremonies in the classroom.

UAlberta Pro-Life v. University of Alberta

The Justice Centre is acting on behalf of Amberlee Nicol, Cameron Wilson, and the student club UAlberta Pro-Life in its court application against the University of Alberta to challenge a $17,500 “security fee” demanded by the University in order for the group to set up a peaceful display on campus in February 2016.  The court application also challenges the University’s decision to condone violations of the Code of Student Behaviour (Code) directed against the pro-life club in March of 2015.

On January 11, 2016, UAlberta Pro-Life applied for University authorization to set up a stationary educational display on campus on February 23 and 24, 2016.  On February 12, only eleven days prior to the scheduled event, the University of Alberta notified the students that they would need to pay $17,500 in “security fees” to proceed with their peaceful educational display.  In its communication, the University demanded that pro-life students pay for the wages of security guards and police, and costs of barricading the venue, and pay for the potential misconduct of people who would violate the University’s Code of Student Behaviour by obstructing and disrupting the display.  Unable to pay $17,500, UAlberta Pro-Life was forced to cancel its planned event in February 2016.

In March of 2015, UAlberta Pro-Life held a similar event, which (then) President Indira Samarasekera supported through a public statement that the University must facilitate and protect the peaceful expression of all views, regardless of popularity.  In defiance of the President’s clear statement about free expression and the rule of law, a student-led mob blockaded and obstructed the club’s display, in violation of the Code of Student Behaviour.  Although the University had advance notice that a mob was being organized to obstruct the display, and although Dr. Samarasekera had warned that any misbehaviour would be investigated and prosecuted, the University of Alberta Protective Services (UAPS) did nothing to stop the blockade of the club’s display.  UAPS did not photograph or seek to identify any blockading student, even though the Code clearly prohibits students from disrupting or obstructing University-related functions.

On March 11, 2015, UAlberta Pro-Life filed a formal complaint with UAPS against the disruptive students pursuant to the Code of Student Behaviour. It took UAPS over eight months to release a decision in regard to the complaint.  In its November 30, 2015 decision, UAPS confirmed that the University would neither charge nor prosecute the students who disrupted, blocked and obstructed the March 2015 display on campus.

On December 18, 2015, the Justice Centre wrote to the University of Alberta Office of Student Conduct and Accountability to appeal the UAPS Decision. On February 4, 2016, the Office of Student Conduct and Accountability dismissed the appeal.

In its court application, UAlberta Pro-Life seeks a declaration that the decision made by the University of Alberta to impose a $17,500 security fee on the club is illegal and unjustifiably infringes the fundamental Canadian value of freedom of expression, also protected by section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  The court application further seeks to prohibit the University from imposing a financial burden on the students as a condition for the exercise of their freedom of speech.

This court application also seeks a declaration that the decision made by the University of Alberta to condone the conduct of students who disrupted and blockaded the University-authorized campus event of UAlberta Pro-Life in March of 2015, is unreasonable and therefore illegal.

This case was heard June 8 and 9, 2017. The Court’s judgment is pending.

Ryerson Men’s Issues Awareness Society v. Ryerson Students’ Union

The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) has denied club status to a student group seeking to discuss issues and views on campus that RSU executives disagree with.

The Men’s Issues Awareness Society at Ryerson (MIAS) is a student group established in 2015 by students at Ryerson “to host discussions and bring social awareness to issues that disproportionately affect men and boys, such as higher rates of suicide, homelessness, workplace injuries and failure in school.”  Nearly half of MIAS’ members are women.

On October 19, 2015, MIAS submitted its application to RSU for recognition as a student group.  At a meeting with RSU’s Student Group Committee on October 26, RSU told MIAS that there was no need for a men’s issues group.  RSU took the position that other groups like the Women and Trans Collective were already addressing many of the issues MIAS sought to focus on.  Further, RSU claimed that men have “systemic privilege,” and that a group focused on men’s issues would “harass” women and make them feel “unsafe”.

On October 27, 2015, MIAS was informed that its application for club status had been rejected. MIAS immediately appealed the decision, making numerous changes to its constitution to answer concerns the RSU had listed. These amendments expressly stated MIAS’ pre-existing commitments to remain independent of any external control, to reject all forms of violence and hate speech, to take all precautions for safety at any group functions, and to provide a safe place for discussions free of fear for personal safety. Nevertheless, on January 26, 2016, the RSU Board of Directors voted to reject MIAS’ appeal.

As a result of RSU’s decision to deny club status, MIAS is excluded from RSU club services such as funding, advertising, event approval services, and free room and facility bookings, even though MIAS members are required to pay fees to RSU.  RSU has recognized over 80 other student groups, ranging from ideological and religious clubs to shared ethnic and hobby clubs.  Without student group recognition, MIAS has been forced to hold events off campus, because they cannot afford to book event rooms on campus.  This has made it very difficult for the group to engage with their peers and attract new members.

The Justice Centre has filed a court application against RSU on behalf of MIAS.  In the court application, MIAS seeks a declaration that the decision of the RSU to deny their application for student group recognition (i) was contrary to the principles of natural justice and procedural fairness, (ii) was tainted by a closed mind and bias, and (iii) was not made in good faith; that it exceeds RSU’s jurisdiction and is contrary to RSU’s own policies and rules; and that it is unreasonable, discriminatory and contrary to fundamental common law values and the values of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, by failing to respect Ryerson University students’ freedom of expression and freedom of association.  This court application further seeks an order prohibiting RSU from limiting access to its services and other resources on account of the thoughts, beliefs, opinions, expressions or associations of students or student groups.

On January 17, 2017, the Justice Centre questioned current RSU President, Obaid Ullah, and Kevin Arriola was questioned by RSU’s counsel.  A hearing date is currently being sought.

On February 7, 2017, the application against the Ryerson Students’ Union was consolidated with the cases against UTMSU and the Student Association at Durham College and UOIT (both described below).  All three cases will now be heard together in Toronto.  A hearing date is currently being sought.

Speak for the Weak v. Student Association at Durham College and University of Ontario Institute of Technology

The Student Association of Durham College and University of Ontario Institute of Technology (“Student Association”) refused to grant club recognition to the student group, Speak for the Weak, due to its stance on abortion.  The Student Association claims that allowing a pro-life club on campus would constitute “systemic societal oppression”, and would violate “human rights”.  The Student Association further claims that only clubs which support abortion are “equity-seeking” and therefore allowed on campus.

Speak for the Weak’s application for club status was denied in September 2015.  The students spent most of the fall semester unsuccessfully attempting to appeal the decision to the Student Association’s Board of Directors. Without club status, student groups cannot gain access to Student Association space and resources, making it very difficult to conduct activities and engage with the student body.

In a court application filed on behalf of Speak for the Weak, the Justice Centre argues that the Student Association has violated its own policies and rules, failed to follow the principles of natural justice, based its decision on irrelevant considerations, and failed to respect students’ freedoms of expression and association.

On February 7, 2017, the application against the Student Association was consolidated with the cases against UTMSU and the Ryerson Students’ Union.  All three cases will now be heard together in Toronto.  A hearing date is currently being sought.

Students for Life v. University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union

The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) refused to renew the club status of Students for Life for the 2015-16 year, effectively barring the student group from using the student centre and accessing student union resources.  As a result, in September of 2015, Students for Life could not join other campus clubs in setting up a table during clubs’ week—a key event for recruiting new members.

UTMSU had granted club status for Students for Life in the 2014-15 school year, but changed its mind specifically because of Students for Life’s “stance on Abortion”.  UTMSU’s mission statement includes a commitment “[t]o safeguard the individual rights of the student, regardless of race, creed, sex … or personal or political beliefs,” and lists “strength in diverse voices and opinions” as a “fundamental belief.”

After receiving a legal warning letter from the Justice Centre in October 2015, Russ Adade, UTMSU Vice-President, changed his previous rationale for denying club status to Students for Life, namely, the club’s stance on abortion.  Adade instead told Students for Life that the reason their club was denied status was “violations and discrepancies we found within your constitution in relation to the clubs handbook and UTMSU operational policy as it pertains to clubs.”

Students for Life immediately made the required changes to their constitution, but UTMSU has continued to deny club status, necessitating a court application.

The Justice Centre has filed a court application on behalf of Students for Life against UTMSU for violating its own rules, for acting with bias and bad faith, for breaching the rules of natural justice and procedural fairness, and for failing to respect students’ fundamental freedoms of expression and association.

On February 7, 2017, the application against the UTMSU was consolidated with the cases against the Ryerson Students’ Union and the Student Association at Durham College and UOIT.  All three cases will now be heard together in Toronto.  A hearing date is currently being sought.