Should courts have broad power to regulate the membership of private groups? The Supreme Court of Canada has heard arguments for a case that will have profound implications for all private civil society organizations, and particularly religious congregations. The CCF has intervened in this case to help defend an important principle and freedom.
Mr. Wall (the plaintiff) was expelled from Calgary’s Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in April, 2014, for alleged drunkenness, verbal abuse of his wife and insufficient repentance. Having exhausted appeals within the church, the plaintiff sought relief from the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, claiming that his disfellowshipping was not consistent with the principles of fundamental justice. The church responded that Canadian courts have no jurisdiction to second-guess the membership decisions of a private religious body. The narrow question facing the court will be whether courts have jurisdiction to review the membership decisions of religious congregations. More broadly, the court will consider to what extent the state can intervene in the internal processes of private organizations.
The CCF believes the constitutionally guaranteed freedom to associate must include the freedom not to associate, and that right cannot be policed by the courts without an unprecedented intrusion on the privacy and autonomy of Canadians. Where no related legal rights are involved, the internal membership and disciplinary decisions of private bodies are no business of the state. To read more about the background of this case, read CCF Executive Director Howard Anglin’s article in the Globe & Mail.
Update: This case was heard on November 2, 2017. We eagerly await the Court’s decision.
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Read the full release from April 13, 2017 here.
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