Alberta Human Rights Commission Seeks Leave to Appeal to SCC in Webber Academy Foundation Case

Illustration: Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Alberta Human Rights Commission Seeks Leave to Appeal to SCC in Webber Academy Foundation Case

In June of this year the Alberta Court of Appeal released its judgment on Webber Academy Foundation v. Alberta (Human Rights Commission).[1] The case revolved around the rights of two Sunni Muslim students to pray openly at a non-denominational school. Webber Academy had forbidden the students from praying as their form of prayer was too visible and hence violated the school policy on visible expressions of religious affiliation.

The Alberta Human Rights Commission found that Webber Academy had violated the students right to religious expression and fined Webber Academy $26,000. Webber Academy Appealed this decision to the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench where the appeal was dismissed. Webber Academy then appealed to the Alberta Court of Appeal who overturned the tribunal decision removing the fine. The grounds for this reversal was an assertion that the commission did not have the constitutional authority to hear Charter complaints. As such it was beyond the jurisdiction of the commission to decide that the Charter rights of the two students had been violated. The Court of Appeal allowed for the possibility of a new inquiry in front of a new human rights tribunal at which the human rights commission is to refer any and all constitutional questions to the Court of Queen’s Bench.

This week the president of Webber Academy, Neil Webber, informed CBC that they have received information confirming that the Alberta Human Rights Commission is seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.[2] Although it is unlikely for the appeal to be approved, this case could set important precedents on the topics of religious liberty, the power of tribunals to protect civil rights, and the duty of academic institutions to allow expression of sincerely held religious beliefs.

The result of this appeal is a difficult one to digest as on one hand it is a damaging blow to our ability as citizens to express our sincerely held religious beliefs while inside private institutions; but on the other hand, it is a victory of judicial supremacy over administrative tribunals. As much as we should work to ensure the continuation of religious liberty it should not be accomplished by administrative tribunals making decisions on the interpretation of the Charter. Upholding the Charter is the duty of the courts and only they should have the power to decide when and how it has been violated.

This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.

 

[1] Webber Academy Foundation v. Alberta (Human Rights Commission) 2018 ABCA 207

[2] “Human rights commission wants Supreme Court to hear dispute over Muslim prayer at Calgary school” (October 29, 2018), online: The Canadian Press https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/alberta-human-rights-prayer-school-webber-appeal-court-1.4882729