Law Society of Upper Canada, Statement of Principles on Respect for Religious Beliefs

From “The Law Society of Upper Canada, Respect for Religious and Spiritual Beliefs: A Statement of Principles of the Law Society of Upper Canada,” March 10, 2005, at pages 23 and 24, paragraphs 49-52:

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The incidents of religiously motivated discrimination and hatred outlined in this report and the Canadian and international condemnation of discrimination and hatred based on religion reinforce the importance for the Law Society to adopt a Statement of Principles that recognizes religious diversity.

Therefore, the Law Society adopts the following Statement of Principles.

The Law Society of Upper Canada, recognizing that:

a. Respect for religious diversity advances the cause of justice;

b. The rule of law is enhanced when religiously motivated discrimination or hatred is not tolerated;

c. There continues to be a disturbing number of incidents of religious discrimination and religiously motivated hate crimes in Ontario and in Canada, as well as in the world;

d. The laws of Ontario and Canada guarantee freedom of conscience and religion, and prohibit discrimination and the wilful promotion of hatred on the basis of religion or creed;

e. The international community has condemned religious discrimination as harmful and unacceptable, and has recommended that measures be undertaken to combat religious hatred and discrimination; and

f. Although particular groups may be frequent targets of religious discrimination, religious hatred and discrimination is a problem of Canadian society as a whole;

The Law Society of Upper Canada condemns in the strongest terms all manifestations and forms of hatred and discrimination based upon religious and spiritual beliefs. Although current circumstances centre predominantly on issues of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, the Law Society condemns all forms of religious intolerance directed at any group or community.

The Law Society of Upper Canada undertakes to promote and support religious understanding and respect both inside and outside the legal profession.

Lawyers Won’t Bow To Law Society

Originally posted at Convivium.ca on October 2, 2017.

Thirty-six years ago, negotiations between Canada’s federal and provincial governments about the patriation of Canada’s constitution followed on the heels of a close referendum over the potential separation of Quebec. It was Ontario’s Bill Davis who led a group of premiers insisting the preamble to the nation’s proposed constitutional guarantee of human rights acknowledge “Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.”

Don Hutchinson

Don at the Supreme Court of Canada

The sitting Prime Minister’s opinion was expressed to his caucus as, “I don’t think God gives a damn whether he’s in the Constitution.” Pierre Trudeau may have had a point, but Davis’ position carried the day in the Constitution Act, 1982 .

In addition to affirming an expansive understanding of religious freedom for individuals andreligious organizations under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in more than a dozen decisions, the Supreme Court of Canada has commented specifically on the language in the preamble, stating:

… the preamble to the Charter itself establishes that “… Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law”. According to the reasoning espoused by Saunders J., if one’s moral view manifests from a religiously grounded faith, it is not to be heard in the public square, but if it does not, then it is publicly acceptable. The problem with this approach is that everyone has “belief” or “faith” in something, be it atheistic, agnostic or religious.

To construe the “secular” as the realm of the “unbelief” is therefore erroneous. Given this, why, then, should the religiously informed conscience be placed at a public disadvantage or disqualification? To do so would be to distort liberal principles in an illiberal fashion and would provide only a feeble notion of pluralism.

The key is that people will disagree about important issues, and such disagreement, where it does not imperil community living, must be capable of being accommodated at the core of a modern pluralism. [Justice Gonthier, endorsed by Chief Justice McLachlin, in the 2002 decision in Chamberlain v. Surrey School Board .]

As the fall session of the Supreme Court begins its sittings, the Government of Ontario and the Law Society of Upper Canada (Ontario) have filed written arguments to challenge the establishment of a law school by a Christian university. They will appear later this year to state their position verbally. Trinity Western University’s proposed school of law complies in all respects with academic requirements agreed upon by members of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, including Ontario’s.

Still, both the government and law society argue (to use the Supreme Court’s language above) there is a need for them to put the private university “at a public disadvantage or disqualification” because the law society and government disagree with the university’s “religiously informed conscience” on the matter of a faith-based community covenant for staff and students. Both particularly object that the covenant prohibits sex between students or staff outside of marriage between one woman and one man.

It’s worth noting that in 2001 the Supreme Court supported Trinity Western’s community standards in a similar scenario when the challenge was brought by the British Columbia College of Teachers. The Court concluded the university met academic requirements and could offer an education degree, acknowledging not everyone would want to attend the private Christian university. Graduates who decided to teach in in B.C. would be subject to the B.C. College of Teachers’ rules of conduct. The Court noted, “if TWU’s Community Standards could be sufficient in themselves to justify denying accreditation, it is difficult to see how the same logic would not result in the denial of accreditation to members of a particular church.  The diversity of Canadian society is partly reflected in the multiple religious organizations that mark the societal landscape and this diversity of views should be respected.”

In its 2004 decision in Reference re Same Sex Marriage , the Court expressed its position that there would be genuine differences of opinion about marriage. Protecting the right of religious individuals and communities to hold a definition of marriage at variance with that of the State, the Court observed, “The right to freedom of religion enshrined in s. 2 (a ) of the Charter encompasses the right to believe and entertain the religious beliefs of one’s choice, the right to declare one’s religious beliefs openly and the right to manifest religious belief by worship, teaching, dissemination and religious practice.”

In its submission to the Supreme Court in the law school case, the Law Society of Upper Canada bases its objection to Trinity Western operating a law school and the licensing of its graduates to practice law because the Law Society considers the Christian university to be “a private institution” with a “discriminatory admissions policy.” Effectively, the Law Society of Upper Canada contends the graduates of a law school that fulfils the academic requirements established to competently practice law in Canada may do so anywhere but Ontario, because the operating ethos of the school is Christian in belief and practice. The Government of Ontario has intervened in support of the Law Society’s position: no school, no graduates.

Consistent with this distortion of “liberal principles in an illiberal fashion” (to go back to Justice Gonthier’s words above about placing the religiously informed at disadvantage), in recent weeks the Law Society has initiated an extension of its submission on Trinity Western for application to currently licensed lawyers in Ontario. The Law Society has issued a directive requiring all its members “to create and abide by an individual Statement of Principles that acknowledges your obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally, and in your behaviour towards colleagues, employees, clients and the public” before January 1, 2018.

The new decree is framed within efforts to address racism within the legal profession, but the language chosen leaves little doubt that the promotion of “equality, diversity and inclusion generally” goes beyond the question of race.

As a Christian, I believe and practice the Biblical recognition that all persons are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) with inherent dignity and value, and are worthy of respect.

As a licensee of the Law Society of Upper Canada, I am obligated to abide by the laws in the Province of Ontario generally, particularly the Ontario Human Rights Code . Under the Law Society’s Rules of Professional Conduct I have “a duty to carry on the practice of law and discharge all responsibilities to clients, tribunals, the public and other members of the profession honourably and with integrity” as well as to “be courteous, civil, and act in good faith with all persons with whom the lawyer has dealings in the course of their practice.”

I expect to find myself among a group of lawyers from a variety of faith communities who consider our religious beliefs, commitment to the laws of nation and province, and obligations under existing rules of professional conduct – which is a mandatory community covenant for all who desire to practice law – as sufficient to address the Law Society’s concerns. There really is nothing more to add for purposes of an individual Statement of Principles.

However, submitting a statement that says my faith beliefs and existing obligations are more-than-enough may fall short of the Law Society’s expectation for members to “promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally.” Perhaps, only because we may have different understandings of what the words “promote,” “equality,” “diversity,” and “inclusion” mean. If adjudged that this more-than-enough is too little, I will likely find myself in the companionship of a substantial number of lawyers who, like potential graduates of Trinity Western University’s proposed school of law, have satisfied all academic requirements to engage in the practice of law, comply with Ontario’s laws and our obligations under the Rules of Professional Conduct, but will not bow religiously informed consciences to the god of 21 century political correctness.

Thirty-five years after Canada’s new constitutional Charter of Rights and Freedoms expressed its guarantee for the fundamental freedom of freedom of religion, it appears officials at the Law Society of Upper Canada and political leaders in the Government of Ontario might now well be the ones who don’t give a damn, this time concerning what the rule of law has to say about those who recognize the supremacy of God.

Pastor Lim’s Ray of Light

Originally posted at Convivium.ca on August 14, 2017.

For several days now, against the backdrop of escalating rhetoric between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Premier Kim Jong-un, mainstream and social media have been teeming with stories about a particular ray of light shining in the publicly intensifying political darkness.

Don - "Love, Hope, Believe"

Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim was set free from a North Korean prison on Thursday. He had served less than two years of a life sentence for subversion of the government through religion, a crime to which Lim had proffered a state-televised public confession. Detained in February 2015, life sentence decreed that December, Lim was suddenly a free man.

Concern developed when the official reason for release was stated as “sick bail” on humanitarian grounds. This was amplified when Lim’s family issued an early statement asking for privacy until his medical condition could be assessed. The world was well aware that just weeks ago, American Otto Warmbier had returned home from a North Korean prison in a walking coma, death arriving a few days later.

Apprehension abated somewhat when video emerged of the sixty-two year old Lim walking about in conversation on an airport runway in Japan, after disembarking an RCAF passenger jet. He looked leaner and somewhat aged from his last recorded appearance, but in apparent good health.

The consistent thread running through the reporting of this story, whether relaying the narrative of Lim’s personal health or the tale of secretive diplomacy, is that Hyeon Soo Lim is the pastor of one of Canada’s largest churches.

Initial scant reports on Lim’s release were followed by longer stories, several claiming to describe the inner political workings of international prisoner releases by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the nation established on the northern part of the Korean peninsula as one of several political divisions by Allied forces following WWII. As the ally then with authority over the DPRK (North Korea), the Soviet Union’s communist government installed as leader Kim Il-sung, father of his successor Kim Jong-il and grandfather of current Supreme Leader , Kim Jong-un. Without a diplomatic mission in North Korea, the Canadian government worked with a contemporary ally, Sweden. Reportedly, through the negotiation by the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang, secret meetings with North Korean representatives at the United Nations headquarters in New York and a Sunday afternoon foreign minister to foreign minister conversation in Manila, a deal was struck.

Tuesday, a Canadian diplomatic team hurried to Pyongyang, with an envoy said to be carrying a personal letter from Prime Minister Trudeau to Premier Kim. Thursday, Lim was on the plane with them headed home. Saturday, he again descended the small jet’s steps in his own strength at CFB Trenton before hugging his wife, then lifting his nearly one-year-old granddaughter in his arms. His desired next stop? Tim Horton’s on the drive home!

The consistent thread running through the reporting of this story, whether relaying the narrative of Lim’s personal health or the tale of secretive diplomacy, is that Hyeon Soo Lim is the pastor of one of Canada’s largest churches. Reverend Lim had travelled to North Korea more than one hundred times over the last two decades. Born in Seoul a decade after Korea was divided into South and North, Lim knew the risks. So, why endanger his life on more than one hundred occasions? Particularly after American missionary Kenneth Bae (also born in South Korea) was detained and sentenced in North Korea on similar grounds in April 2013?

Lim was on a personal humanitarian mission, motivated by his Christian faith and his Korean origins.

Lim appreciates the people, whether living in the North or South, are his Korean cousins, and that they are imago Dei , created in the image of God. He understands Christians are obliged by Scripture to engage in works demonstrative of our faith (James 2:14-22) and to be ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). Called to lead in the Korean diaspora, Lim found himself also drawn to serve as an ambassador of good works. Beginning with relief efforts following the North Korean famine in 1996, Lim initiated activity that has met real needs of real people in the northern part of his divided homeland. He engaged in food sustainability initiatives, as well as establishing a nursery, orphanage and home for the elderly among other humanitarian endeavours for which he raised tens of millions of dollars.

Hyeon Soo Lim understands what Jesus Christ and His earliest followers relayed in words, both spoken and written, and displayed in their daily lives. A faith that is focused on loving God compels loving our neighbours, both near and far, as well. Christ, the Light of the World (John 8:12) challenges us to also let our light shine (Matthew 5:16), assessing and accepting attendant risk.

Following Lim’s detention and sentencing, Christians in Canada and around the world, mobilized in prayer, and in practical pressure on the Canadian government, as meaningful service to Pastor Lim and his family, in the effort to secure his release.

Whether Premier Kim responded to Divine or diplomatic intervention, or some combination, we may never know. Neither will we know whether Kim’s act was a humanitarian goodwill gesture or motivated by sufficient awareness of Christianity that he preferred a South Korean born Canadian pastor praying from Toronto to the potential of a martyr inspiring North Korean Christians to greater works, greater boldness and greater numerical growth. What we do know is, in the midst of a war of words between Premier Kim and President Trump that has cast a threatening political shadow over the globe, there shines a ray of light in the release of a compassionate man who for two decades brought his own ray of Light into the darkness of people in need.

Hyeon Soo Lim understands what Jesus Christ and His earliest followers relayed in words, both spoken and written, and displayed in their daily lives.

Sunday morning, Pastor Lim arrived at Light Presbyterian Church to a crush of media, along with parishioners and visitors. Later, he stood in the pulpit to share about his ordeal and how it propelled him to a more intimate relationship with Jesus. He closed the meeting with prayer in his native Korean. I’m told he prayed for his adopted country of Canada, for the people of North Korea, and for peace.

Welcome home, Reverend Lim. We join you in that prayer.

The 20th Century Belongs to Canada

Originally posted at The Gospel Coalition Canada on July 24, 2017. (1st of 3 parts on the Canadian Church and the public sphere)

Sir Wilfred Laurier, Canada’s seventh Prime Minister, famously said, “The 19th century was the century of the United States. I think we can claim that it is Canada that shall fill the 20th century.” Those taking hold of Laurier’s claim have frequently reduced his statement to simply, “The 20th century belongs to Canada.”

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Shortly after winning the 1891 election, Canada’s founding Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald suffered a stroke and days later died. Five years later, his Conservative Party was still in disarray. On their fourth leader (and fourth Prime Minister) since Macdonald, the Conservatives fell to Laurier’s Liberals in 1896. Laurier would win four majorities in succession and lead the nation for fifteen years.

He had good reason for hopeful words about the future. Little more than three decades old, the original four provinces that linked together to form Canada at Confederation on July 1, 1867—Upper Canada (Ontario), Lower Canada (Quebec), New Brunswick and Nova Scotia—had been joined by Manitoba (1870), British Columbia (1871) and Prince Edward Island (1873). In addition to Manitoba, the process was in place to establish the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta out of the then vast Northwest Territories, acquired by Canada in 1870 from the Hudson’s Bay Company. A Mari usque ad mare, from sea to sea, the last spike in Canada’s transcontinental railway had been hammered home November 7, 1885. And Laurier had approved construction of a second and a third!

The Canadian Church in The 19th Century

The political and industrial optimism of the nation extended to the Canadian Church. In 1867, Catholic and Protestant churches had their right to operate denominational schools secured in the British North America Act (now known as the Constitution Act, 1867). This security for future generations was repeated as each new province joined Confederation. The transcontinental railway system, with multiple provincial spur lines, introduced opportunities for evangelism and expansion from both east and west across the prairies.

Denominations sought ways to transition from colonial and regional activity to establish their presence throughout the budding nation. In his book, The Church in the Canadian Era, John Webster Grant described the challenge faced by the Church to keep up with the rapid progress. A number of theologically related denominations merged to facilitate administration of a national presence. Canada’s churches were enthusiastically engaging their membership in the formation and growth of the nation.

E.C. Woodley, in The Bible in Canada: The Story of the British and Foreign Bible Society in Canada, tells how the para-congregational British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS), founded in 1804 by a small group of Christian leaders including British Member of Parliament William Wilberforce, expanded with Church and nation. At an early meeting of the BFBS, the decision was made to publish the Gospel of St. John in Mohawk. Active engagement in what would become Canada quickly followed. With Confederation, railways and substantial Indigenous and immigrant populations, the work of Bible distribution and translation multiplied. In 1904, fourteen independent auxiliaries of the BFBS joined together to form the Canadian Bible Society (CBS). CBS would find a place in the hearts of many through its supply of New Testaments and Bibles in a variety of languages to Canadian and other allied troops and prisoners of war in World Wars I (270,000) and II (798,000). The available selection of translations had been developed to meet domestic needs resulting from burgeoning, mostly European, immigration.

The Canadian Church in The Early 20 Century

The Great War saw Canadians flock to churches to pray for victory. Whether because of answered prayer or seeking continuing comfort for lost loved ones, they stayed at war’s end. Those who returned from the front sought out similar support at home as had been provided overseas by chaplains, the Red Cross, The Salvation Army, and the CBS Bibles.

The national growth spurred a uniquely Canadian merger in 1925. The Methodist Church, Congregational Church, and two-thirds of Canada’s Presbyterian congregations joined together to form the United Church of Canada. At union, the United Church became the largest Protestant denomination in the country, quickly displacing the Anglican Church as the primary Protestant voice to counter that of the Roman Catholic Church in both politics and culture. Other potential church mergers, including between the Anglican Church and the new United Church, would be discussed actively among Protestant leaders for another half century.

Even the Great Depression of the 1930s could not slow the overall progress of Canada’s Church. Congregations and para-congregational missions became the backbone of both voluntary and government networks of meeting human need.

My stepfather soldiered at the front in World War II. He used to say that there were no atheists in a foxhole. However, that sentiment did not necessarily carry back to Canada with those who came home. World War II resulted in what had been known as The Great War being retitled as World War I. Questions about global political and military stability were rampant, as were mounting fears of a World War III. Trends in church attendance indicate soldiers returned home, but not necessarily to Sunday worship. Evangelism crusade ministries, such as Youth For Christ started by Charles Templeton and friends, were having a positive impact but traditional Protestant denominations became concerned about Sunday attendance.

Automobiles, air travel, radio and television were making Canada a more connected—might it be said, smaller—country. Occasions to be away from Sunday services, at the time still morning and evening for most congregations, increased as opportunities to visit family or friends for an afternoon or to watch Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Colour (or other early evening television programs) presented unanticipated competition.

The Canadian Church in The Mid 20th Century

However, it was the early 1960s which witnessed a visible decoupling of culture from church. In Quebec, after a decade and a half of rule by Maurice Duplessis’ Union Nationale, a party closely aligned with the Roman Catholic Church, the rallying cry Maîtres chez nous (“Masters in our own house”) secured victory for the Liberal Party of Jean Lesage. La Revolution tranquille (“the Quiet Revolution”) brought both cultural and political change. At the same time, a general cultural revolution (it was more than a sexual revolution) was sweeping across English Canada and a generation was emboldened to step away from the strictures of religion.

Concerned about the nascent trend, in 1963 the Anglican Church of Canada retained a former Anglican, author Pierre Berton, to conduct an assessment and write a general critique. The Comfortable Pew: A Critical Look at Christianity And the Religious Establishment in the New Age was published in 1965. The little book was an instant bestseller. After publication, Berton was invited to share his thoughts with the United Church of Canada and the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

Berton’s diagnosis portrayed the church as wealthy, insular, and filled with people primarily there for social and business reasons; he also portrayed the church as endorsing a private and unchallenged faith and failing to offer guidance on issues of morality or public engagement—from business ethics to the major decisions of political leadership. His solution? Realign the church to engage the culture as part of the culture. This would necessarily involve reevaluating or setting aside historic principles of Scripture, which Berton considered to be no longer relevant to Canadian society in the century’s closing decades.

The greater portion of the Protestant Church in Canada embraced Berton’s recommendations and began to drift with the tide of culture.

At the same time politically in the 1960s, Prime Minister Lester Pearson’s Liberal government came to power, implementing new immigration policies that redirected Canada’s immigration tendencies. This redirection impacted Canada’s historic churches in an adverse way.

Pearson also envisioned the future of his Liberal Party being secured through establishing a power base in Quebec’s constitutionally-guaranteed minimum of twenty-five percent of seats in the House of Commons. He actively recruited high profile candidates from the province. One of those candidates, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, would become Pearson’s Justice Minister, then succeed him in 1968 as Prime Minister. Trudeau introduced legislation that made it easier to obtain a divorce, as well as decriminalizing abortion and homosexuality.

The culture that had grown with the Church was, like the Israelites of old, finding fresh distractions and new temptations. The traditional churches were in the beginning stage of what would become a rapid decline by century’s end.

Re-emerging would be denominations and congregations that placed primacy on orthodoxy (sound doctrine) and orthopraxy (sound practice), holding fast to the Word of God. Evangelicals, whether denominationally or congregations within traditional Protestant denominations, were holding their statistical percentage of an increasing Canadian population. That meant growth. Also growing were Eastern Orthodox communities, benefiting from immigration changes, and networks of immigrant-led ethnic Protestant and Roman Catholic congregations. For the most part, this new wave of immigrants observed a more conservative expression of faith than their European-origin Canadian forebears.

Canadian culture and demographics looked different entering the 21st century than they did when Laurier made his proclamation at the beginning of the 20th. So did the Church.

Space within the law in which religious voices can be heard

Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, made an unusual and significant decision on Monday. The Chief Justice issued a variance to the order of Justice Richard Wagner, significantly expanding the number of organizations that will present to the Court on the Trinity Western University cases scheduled to be heard together November 30, and now December 1 as well.

Don Hutchinson

At the Supreme Court of Canada

You may recall that TWU satisfied the educational requirements of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada and the British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education as precursor to recruiting staff and opening a law school. Three Canadian law societies (the provincial self-regulatory bodies for the legal profession) decided to step back from their agreement with the Federation in regard to the approval because TWU would be the first private religious school in the country authorized to educate lawyers. They objected to the Christian religious requirements of the TWU community, particularly abstention from sexual activity, except with their spouse for those staff and students who are married, marriage being defined in the religious tradition of the school as between one woman and one man.

The Supreme Court of Canada is scheduled to hear the remaining refusals of the TWU law school from British Columbia and Ontario.

The Law Society of British Columbia is appealing a unanimous decision by five judges of the British Columbia Court of Appeal that approved of TWU opening a law school, concluding:

A society that does not admit of and accommodate differences cannot be a free and democratic society—one in which its citizens are free to think, to disagree, to debate and to challenge the accepted view without fear of reprisal. This case demonstrates that a well-intentioned majority acting in the name of tolerance and liberalism, can, if unchecked, impose its views on the minority in a manner that is in itself intolerant and illiberal.

The other case is an appeal by TWU of the unanimous decision by three judges of the Ontario Court of Appeal in favour of the Law Society of Upper Canada’s decision to deny admission to legal practice by graduates of the law school, noting:

… the LSUC did not violate its duty of state neutrality by concluding that the public interest in ensuring equal access to the profession justified a degree of interference with the appellants’ religious freedoms.

Justice Wagner was tasked with deciding who would be permitted to make arguments before the Court in addition to TWU and the two law societies. These extra presenters are called “interveners.” To receive authorization to present before the Court, they must comply with an application process. Justice Wagner decided that a limited number of applicants would be permitted as interveners.

The Chief Justice altered that preliminary decision, as is the prerogative of her position.

Her decision is in keeping with a previously stated position outlined in my book, Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017).

Beverly McLachlin became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada in January 2000. On October 9, 2002, speaking at the Pluralism, Religion, and Public Policy conference held at McGill University, she stated her opinion that it is the responsibility of the courts to find somewhere “in the comprehensive claims of the rule of law, a space in which individual and community adherence to religious authority can flourish.” The Chief Justice recognized that in the claims of law and religion, “two comprehensive worldviews collide. It is at this point that the treatment of religion becomes truly exigent… both lay some claim to the whole of human experience.” It was the Chief Justice’s conclusion that the courts must meet this challenge in society and that they have been charged with the responsibility for creating this space, “a space within the rule of law in which religious beliefs can manifest.”

On Monday, the Chief Justice decided to make some of that space in her courtroom.

In addition to those who support TWU’s law school proposal, she also made space for those who do not, expanding the field of interveners from the nine selected by Justice Wagner to all thirty-two applicants. In doing so, she affirms a point of law on which she stated agreement in 2004, written by Justice Charles Gonthier:

…nothing in the Charter, political or democratic theory, or a proper understanding of pluralism demands that atheistically based moral positions trump religiously based moral positions on matters of public policy.

The Court’s particular role as an instrument of the state is to do its best to be neutral in hearing and deciding these two related cases.

Comments of Justice Marie Deschamps, made in 2012 and with which the Chief Justice agreed, in regard to the state’s duty of neutrality are also noted in Under Siege:

The Court concluded “that, from a philosophical standpoint, absolute neutrality does not exist”.

However, following a realistic and non-absolutist approach, state neutrality is assured when the state neither favours nor hinders any particular religious belief, that is, when it shows respect for all postures towards religion, including that of having no religious beliefs whatsoever, while taking into account the competing constitutional rights of the individuals affected.

The place of the religious Canadian in Canadian society is equal with that of the non-religious Canadian.

It will be a far more interesting discussion on the points of law at issue in this case with the additional interveners granted the opportunity to present before the Court, including the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Canadian Council of Christian Charities and the World Sikh Organization among others.

Through this decision, informed by the wisdom of experience – no doubt also a difficult one, particularly since Justice Wagner, from Quebec, is being touted a likely successor to the Chief Justice’s chair on her retirement in December – Beverley McLachlin is staying faithful to her word by making space in which important religious voices can be heard.

You can follow the status of the cases here.