Supreme Court to hear case involving Calgary man expelled from Jehovah’s Witnesses

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Canada’s top court has agreed to wade in on the question of whether private organizations, such as churches, can have their decisions reviewed by the justice system.

At issue is whether a Calgary man, expelled from a local Jehovah’s Witness congregation, can appeal that decision to a court.

Calgary Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Earl Wilson said he could and the Alberta Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 decision, agreed.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court granted leave to appeal that ruling to the Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

That decision is being applauded by the Canadian Constitution Foundation, which says the lower court rulings could open up judicial appeals to all sorts of private organizations, from service clubs to amateur sports clubs to churches.

“Not only would this directly violate the Charter rights to freedom of association and religion, it would impose cumbersome and costly new burdens on voluntary organizations,” foundation executive director Howard Anglin said in a news release.

The Calgary man, whom Postmedia is not naming, was expelled from the Jehovah’s Witnesses church in April, 2014, for not being repentant enough for getting drunk twice.

He appealed his expulsion to the church’s appeal branch, but the decision was upheld.

The man said he got drunk on two occasions, including once where he verbally abused his wife.

He explained his drinking was related to pressures on the family relating to the earlier expulsion of their 15-year-old daughter and the subsequent shunning they were required to give her.

The (father) said the edicts of the church pressured the family to evict their daughter from the family home,” the Court of Appeal said in its decision last September upholding Wilson’s ruling.

“This led to further serious consequences, and much distress in the family.”

No date has been set for the Supreme Court to hear the case.