Quebec government wins in Ethics and Religious Culture case

Writing for Troy Media, the Canadian Constitution Foundation’s Derek From argues that the province of Quebec’s Ethics and Religious Culture course violates Charter of Rights’s freedom of religion section:

On February 17th, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) decided that the Charter’s guarantee of freedom of religion does not prevent the Quebec government from forcing children to take the ERC course. This result was easily foreseeable. For the challenge to have succeeded, the parents needed to prove that the ERC course interfered with their ability to pass their faith to their children – something the parents consider a religious duty.

The SCC’s decision did not answer whether the ERC course might violate the freedom of religion of children or teachers, and it did not inquire whether other Charter rights might be violated. The only question addressed was whether the freedom of religion of the parents was violated. This is a significant short-coming

Interestingly (perhaps), the lawyers for the parents have claimed that new evidence has come out since they first launched their challenge that would change outcome. As well, two justices expressed some reservations (FYI, this links to a French site) about the decision (though they did agree with it), worrying that the course could wind up stepping over the line.

In its young life, the course has experienced some judicial defeats, as at least one private religious school has successfully won an exemption (though that stems as much from the wording of the legislation as it does any constitutional right).

From what little I can glean about the course, I’m inclined to agree with the Supreme Court (much as I would like to admonish the Quebec governemtn for another wretched and unconstitutional piece of legislation). Of course, just because something is constitutional does not mean it’s a good idea, and this is where I think the government erred.

There is just too much room for abuse in a religion course, and to force it on everyone seems like a bad fit. You see, not only is this demanded of public and private school students, it is also demanded of home-schooled students. Currently, the Quebec government persecutes any parents who dare to remove their kids from the system and teach them at home. There’s no reason to believe that once given a new club with which to punish these parents, they won’t choose to use it.

Jonathan McLeod

Jonathan McLeod is a writer living in Ottawa, Ontario. (That means Canada.) He spends too much time following local politics and writing about zoning issues. Follow him on Twitter.