Freedom of Conscience & Religion: Loyola High School v Québec (AG)

On March 24, 2014 the Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments in the case of Loyola High School et al v Attorney General of Québec.

The case deals with freedom of conscience and religion and the province’s mandatory ethics and religious culture  (“ERC”) program. In 2008, the Québec provincial government made the class mandatory. Loyal High School applied for a ministerial exemption which was denied.

Question before the court: Could the appellant (Loyola), a private Jesuit school in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Québec, refuse to teach a compulsory comparative religions and ethics class, which is taught in a secular context?

In 2010, the case was heard at the Québec Superior Court, namely: Loyola High School v Courchesne, 2010 QCCS 2631, Courchesne serving as the Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports at the time. The court ruled the mandatory nature of the class would violate the school’s religious freedom, concluding:

[333] GRANTS the reamended motion of the plaintiff Loyola High School;

[334] QUASHES the decision of the Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports dated November 13, 2008 (P-5) and signed by Line Gagné;

[335] DECLARES the plaintiff Loyola High School exempt, in accordance with the first paragraph of section 22 of the Regulation respecting the application of the Act respecting private education, from using the program established by the Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports (exhibits PGQ-31 and NK-3) and contemplated in the first paragraph of section 32 of the Act respecting private education (R.S.Q., c. E-9.1) to teach the compulsory subject ERC in the two cycles of general secondary education, namely, Secondary I, II, IV and V;

[336] AUTHORIZES the plaintiff Loyola High School to teach the compulsory ERC course using its program described in Exhibit P-2, as clarified in exhibits P-1 and P-4;

[337] THE WHOLE with costs, including expert costs.

In 2012, the same case was appealed by the Minister of Education to the Québec Court of Appeal, namely: Québec (Attorney General) v Loyola High School, 2012 QCCA 2139. The earlier decision by the Québec Superior Court was overturned.

June 13, 2013, leave to appeal from the Québec Court of Appeal was granted to the applicants (Loyola High School) by the Supreme Court of Canada and arguments were heard on March 24, 2014.

The court considered Section 2(a) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“freedom of conscience and religion”) and Section 3 (“freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association”) of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms of Québec.

The decision will now take several months for release. The case will determine important constitutional and administrative matters.