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Wall v. Judicial Committee of the Highwood Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses [2017]

28 August 2017
Theme:

This case concerns whether the court has the jurisdiction to review the membership decisions of religious communities and other voluntary associations.

Randy Wall was a member of the Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Calgary, Alberta. He was disfellowshipped by the elders of his local congregation.

Wall asked the court to undertake a judicial review of the elders’ decision to disfellowship him. He was experiencing an economic impact in his work as a realtor due to the decision.

In the lower court decision, Justice Wilson ruled that he had jurisdiction to review the elders’ decision to disfellowship Wall. The Highwood Congregation appealed the decision. In the Court of Appeal, the majority ruled that courts have the jurisdiction to review the decisions of religious organizations, while a minority found the Highwood Congregation’s decision is not subject to judicial review.

Historically Canadian courts have determined that they do not have jurisdiction in the internal decisions of churches and other private associations. For churches, decisions about membership and church discipline are matters of doctrine and the interpretation of Scripture. The courts have recognized that matters of doctrine and theology are beyond their expertise.

The Supreme Court of Canada is scheduled to hear the case on November 2, 2017. The EFC will argue that it is important for religious communities to be able to define their membership and to protect their religious character, identity and integrity. The EFC is co-intervening with the Catholic Civil Rights League.

For more information on Wall v. Judicial Committee of the Highwood Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, see the Supreme Court summary and the EFC-CCRL intervention and EFC-CCRL Book of Authorities (filed October 2017).