Canada: BLG Protects Right To Religious Freedom
Last Updated: March 30 2015

Supreme Court of Canada rules in favour of Loyola High School on entitlement to exemption from teaching secular course​.

Montréal (March 20, 2015) — The Supreme Court of Canada has decided in favour of Loyola High School and quashed the decision of the Québec Minister of Education which denied the school's request to teach a program respectful of its character and mission as a Catholic school in place of the ministerial religion and ethics course. Borden Ladner Gervais LLP (BLG) successfully challenged the Minister's decision on behalf of Loyola on both administrative law and constitutional grounds.

BLG notably argued that it was an infringement of Loyola's constitutionally protected freedom of religion as a private religious school to be forced to disengage from its religious faith in teaching Catholic religion and Catholic ethics to its students.

"The ruling is important in two respects," said Mark Phillips, counsel in the Montréal office of BLG's Commercial Litigation Group. "First, it recognizes that religious organizations, not just individuals, enjoy constitutionally protected freedom of religion. Second, it sets out both what the State is entitled to require and the boundaries which the State must not cross when it comes to curricular issues around religion and ethics."

BLG initially accepted this matter on a pro bono basis before the Québec Superior Court. Mark Phillips and Jacques Darche successfully sought judicial review of the Minister's decision, obtaining a favourable judgment in June 2010. The Attorney General for Québec then appealed, however, and was successful in having the Court's decision overturned by the Québec Court of Appeal in December 2012. Mark and Jacques sought and obtained leave to appeal the Court of Appeal's decision to the Supreme Court of Canada in 2013. The Supreme Court heard oral argument in March 2014 and rendered its important decision yesterday. In two sets of essentially concurring reasons, the Court endorsed the position presented by BLG.

"Everyone at BLG is proud of the work Mark Phillips and Jacques Darche have done to obtain a judgment in favour of Loyola in this extremely significant case," said John Blair, national group head, Commercial Litigation. "Their expertise and commitment ensured that our client and the broader community had consistent representation from two of the most skilled litigators in the country. Phillips, Darche and the team supporting them spent several years working with the client to ensure that the argument presented to and adopted by the Supreme Court would result in good law."

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