THE World Sikh Organization of Canada announced on Monday that on January 16 the Supreme Court of Canada granted the organization leave to intervene in the case of Québec (Procureur général) v. Loyola High School. The Loyola appeal will be heard in March 2014.
Loyola High School is a private Roman Catholic institution in Quebec, which has been denied the right to teach its own world religions course. The Quebec Government has asserted that because Loyola’s course is taught from a faith-based perspective, it is in violation of the Quebec education curriculum. The Government of Quebec has ordered Loyola to teach the province’s Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) course which treats religion as a cultural phenomenon rather than a spiritual journey.
Although the Quebec Superior Court found that the provincial government violated the school’s right to freedom of religion as guaranteed by the Quebec Charter of Rights, the Quebec Court of Appeal overturned the decision.
The Loyola case has raised important issues about freedom of religion in Canada, most importantly whether Charter rights are to be afforded only to individuals or whether organizations and private institutions can also claim protection.
The Loyola case comes during the throes of the debate surrounding the proposed Quebec “Charter of Values” and will address issues related to the rights of religious groups and the role of secularism in Quebec.
Palbinder Kaur Shergill, General Legal Counsel for WSO said, “The Loyola case raises the issue of whether religious organizations are also afforded the protection of the Charter. We believe it is essential that strong protections exist for collective religious freedom, especially for minority religious groups, which are more vulnerable to government interference in their internal functioning. As the only non-Christian religious organization to be intervening in this case, we will be bringing an important perspective to the Supreme Court of Canada on this matter.”
Mukhbir Singh, WSO’s Quebec Vice President, said, “The Supreme Court of Canada`s decision in Loyola will directly affect the Sikh community. Our community’s institutions, whether they are gurdwaras or Khalsa schools are all organizations which must be protected from state interference. The Quebec government’s position that private religious institutions should be forced to teach religion from a non-faith based perspective is clearly problematic. We believe that this approach erodes the very essence of what it means to be a person of faith in Quebec, and across Canada.”
The WSO has a strong reputation for advancing the rights of both Sikh and non-Sikh groups. The WSO’s intervention in Loyola is the third time that the organization will be appearing before the Supreme Court of Canada. In 2004, WSO intervened in Syndicat Northcrest v. Amselem, on behalf of the Jewish community`s rights to religious freedom, and in 2005, WSO intervened in Multani v. Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys with respect to the right of a Sikh student to wear his kirpan at school.