OTTAWA, July 24, 2009 (CLF/EFC press release)  – The Supreme Court of Canada today released its decision in the Alberta v. Hutterian Brethren of Wilson Colony case heard last October. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC)and Christian Legal Fellowship (CLF) are disappointed that the court decided in favour of Alberta’s photo I.D. requirement, failing to recognize the impact the ruling will have on the Wilson Colony’s expression of their religious beliefs. However, we strongly affirm the court’s robust recognition of the “collective aspect” of religious freedom.
The EFC and CLF intervened in the case requesting that the court define the group aspect of religious freedom alluded to in the 1986 case of R. v. Edwards Books. In Edwards Books then Chief Justice Brian Dickson, writing for the majority of the court, stated that “freedom of religion, perhaps unlike freedom of conscience, has both individual and collective aspects.”
EFC Vice-President and General Legal Counsel Don Hutchinson stated, “Although the Supreme Court ruled narrowly – 4 to 3 – in favour of the Alberta government’s photo-licensing program, the strong dissenting opinions of Justices Abella, LeBel and Fish combined with comments of Chief Justice MacLachlan have added helpful jurisprudence in regard to an understanding of the community or group aspect of religious freedom in application of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As Justice LeBel stated, ‘Religion is about religious beliefs, but also about religious relationships.’ ”
Hutchinson, who directs the EFC’s Centre for Faith and Public Life, added, “This was an ideal case for the court to clarify this right as it did not involve accommodating criminal activity (like polygamy) or recognizing alternative legal systems (like Shari’a law). It did ask the court to define the extent to which the religious beliefs and practices of a community or a congregation have standing and protection under the Charter.”
CLF Executive Director Ruth Ross said, “We’re pleased to see the court reinforce its decisions in the Trinity Western and Amselem cases and add to them unanimous agreement that there are collective aspects to religious freedom. We were disappointed that the application of those collective aspects to this particular case did not result in recognition of the severe impact of the government regulation on the practices of an established religious community.”

For more information:

Gail Reid
Director, Communications
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
905-479-5885, ext. 227
Cell: 647-227-3464

Stephanie Luck, J.D., Esq.
Christian Legal Fellowship
(519) 641-8850