Last week, the Québec National Assembly passed the Religious Neutrality Act, also known as Bill 62. Aside from the Indian Act which I
continue to believe is Canada’s most discriminatory legislation (it is pretty hard to argue that the Indian Act’s legislative purpose was anything other than to contain and control the Indian peoples of Canada – of course, this is a conversation for a different day), I can think of no other provincial or federal legislation that is as overtly discriminatory as Bill 62.
While the Act proclaims the secular nature of the organs of state of the Québec government, its central provisions deal with, of all things, face covering. And not just for the personnel of the Québec government. For anyone receiving services from the Québec government. So to be clear, the rule is that to provide or receive services, one’s face must be covered.
For about nine years here on Canada’s West Coast, a constitutional battle has been fought over the future of public health care. The opening shots were fired in 2008 by some individual patients against a private surgery clinic, Cambie Surgeries Corporation (“Cambie”), claiming that Cambie was illegally extra-billing and that the Medical Services Commission (the “MSC”) was not properly enforcing the law. Cambie then responded by launching its own action in early 2009, challenging the constitutionality of provisions of the provincial Medicare Protection Act claiming that they caused undue delay in access to health care resulting in a violation of the patients’ rights to life, liberty and security of the person as guaranteed by s. 7 of the Charter (amongst other challenges). Since 2009, there have been over thirty reported decisions of the Supreme Court of British Columbia dealing with procedural issues. Over twenty of those reported decisions have been issued since the commencement of trial (I am sure that there are many more unreported decisions).
For those of you who follow this issue, the current score is 2 to 1 for Trinity Western University as against the Law Societies. TWU has won two of the three trial court decisions – namely, those in British Columbia and Nova Scotia. It lost its inaugural round in Ontario. All three decisions are being appealed. As we all know, this one is going all the way to the Big House.
Today Chief Justice Hinkson quashed the decision of the Benchers of the Law Society of British Columbia to submit the question as to whether to accredit Trinity Western University’s proposed law school or not to a referendum of the members after previously having decided to accredit the proposed law school. He found that the Benchers’ later decision was improper, was an improper fettering of the Benchers’ discretion and did not involve a proper balancing of the Charter interests as had been done by the Benchers in their earlier decision. He restored their earlier decision to accredit the proposed law school. His ruling can be found at Trinity Western University v. Law Society of British Columbia, 2015 BCSC 2326. I will not go through the legal analysis in this post, at least not today. I will say, however, that this is obviously yet just one more step in the multi-province, multi-action process that will eventually culminate in the Supreme Court of Canada having to review its earlier decision in Trinity Western University v. British Columbia College of Teachers, 2001 SCC 31.
This last week, lawyer and Ph.D. candidate and Vanier and Trudeau scholar, Kerri Froc, was interviewed by Jim Brown on the CBC program, The 180, about gender equality and the rationale behind s. 28 of the Charter. Section 28 states:
Rights guaranteed equally to both sexes
28. Notwithstanding anything in this Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.
Ms. Froc’s interview can be found at The 180 website and is well worth listening to.
The Supreme Court of Canada recently pronounced on the appropriateness of a municipal council insisting on a prayer before holding its meetings. In Mouvement Laique Quebecois v. Saguenuay (City), 2015 SCC 16, Justice Gascon for the majority (Abella J dissenting on the question of the variable test for judicial review of administrative tribunals) held that City of Saguenay’s bylaw which provided for the use of such a prayer, even if it did not derive from any particular denomination, nonetheless offended the freedom of religion of atheists and agnostics (the freedom not to believe) and was therefore inoperative.
The Supreme Court of Canada has made it clear – if you are going to raise a s. 15 Charter discrimination claim, make sure that you have the evidence to substantiate your claim. Making claims on the basis of intuition, presumed facts or innuendo will not suffice. In Kahkewistahaw First Nation v. Taypotat, 2015 SCC 30, released on Thursday, May 28, 2015, Justice Abella, speaking for the Court, reinstated the judgment of the trial judge, Mr. Justice de Montigny of the Federal Court, Trial Division. She rejected the claim of former Chief Taypotat of the Kahkewistahaw First Nation that the First Nation’s Election Code’s education requirement that candidates for office hold a Grade 12 diploma or equivalent discriminated against him on the basis of his age and residence on the reserve. Her judgment focussed principally on the utter lack of evidence of the alleged discrimination as well as the fact that the grounds had not been expressly pled, at least not in the manner developed by the Federal Court of Appeal on its own initiative.
On April 11, 2014, the benchers of the Law Society of British Columbia approved the application of the future law school of Trinity Western University, a Christian faith-based university located in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia, to be an accredited law school. TWU obliges its students to sign and comply with a religious-based covenant that only sex in marriage between a man and a woman is permitted. The concern is that this covenant discriminates against gays and lesbians (and unmarried couples). The Law Society’s vote was 15 to 6 in support of the application. One of British Columbia’s most eminent constitutional scholars, Joseph Arvay, Q.C., was one of the six who opposed the application. On April 24, 2014, the Law Society of Upper Canada rejected TWU’s application for accreditation. The vote was 28 to 21 against accreditation. The next day, the Law Society of Nova Scotia met and voted 11 to 9 to approve TWU’s application — on the condition that TWU drop the requirement that its students sign and respect the covenant. In the meantime, back on the West Coast, over 1000 members of the Law Society of British Columbia signed documents demanding that the decision of the Law Society’s benchers be reconsidered by a full meeting of the membership. Only 500 such members were necessary to require such a special meeting. That meeting will have to be held sometime in the next two months. This collision between equality and anti-discrimination rights on one hand and freedom of religion has been played out before. The British Columbia College of Teachers and TWU went to the Supreme Court on this issue nearly 15 years ago and TWU won: Trinity Western University v. British Columbia College of Teachers, 2001 SCC 31.. Before the law societies, TWU has argued that this case is no different. I must say that I disagree.