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EFC Receives Intervenor Status in Marriage Commissioner Reference

05/11/10

OTTAWA – The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) will appear before the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal Thursday, May 13 and Friday, May 14 in a significant religious freedom case. In July, the Justice Minister of Saskatchewan asked the Court of Appeal for an opinion on potential legislation which would permit marriage commissioners to decline performing marriages if contrary to their religious beliefs. The impetus for this legislation is several disputes in the province concerning approximately 3% of marriage commissioners refusing to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies because of sincerely held religious beliefs.

The government has proposed two potential legislation options to the Court; one permitting marriage commissioners appointed before November 5, 2004 to refuse to solemnize a marriage contrary to their religious beliefs and the second would allow any marriage commissioner the same right. The Court of Appeal is tasked with determining whether either or both meet the standards set out by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The EFC has filed written arguments after being granted intervenor status by the court. Other intervenors include EFC affiliates Christian Legal Fellowship and the Canadian Fellowship of Churches and Ministers, as well as the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Egale Canada Inc.

The EFC will present argument in favour of legislation that would protect and ensure the religious and conscience freedoms of all marriage commissioners, not just those appointed prior to November 2004.

“If neither of the proposed options is found to be constitutional, the limitations on religious freedom will not only affect marriage commissioners but could well impact any Canadians working in the public service,” explains EFC Vice-President and General Legal Counsel Don Hutchinson. “It would mean that government employees would be expected to check their beliefs, religious or otherwise, at the door, if inconsistent with their government employer.”

“Some have argued that the state’s duty to accommodate only applies in private settings,” states Faye Sonier, Legal Counsel for the EFC. “Somehow, they perceive the right to freedom of conscience and religion doesn’t apply to an employee in a public role. That position is inconsistent with the Charter and Canadian jurisprudence. Human rights and employment law jurisprudence has well established that a Canadian, whether working in the private or public sector, may object to performing a task if it is contrary to their conscience or religious beliefs. To strip all Canadians who choose to serve the public in a government accredited role of their Charter rights is ludicrous.”

The EFC has prepared a blog post explaining the Saskatchewan Marriage Reference. It includes links to a document of Frequently Asked Questions and to the factum (official legal arguments).

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For more information or an interview contact: 
Gail Reid Director, Communications
Cell: 647-227-3464
reidg@efc-canada.com

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