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Department's History


Human Rights in Canada: An Historical Perspective

Freedom of Religion


B.C.'s Unemployment Relief Act S.B.C.1932, c. 58 makes it illegal to refuse to employ someone because of his or her political affiliation, race or religious views. The act is based on a federal-provincial agreement.

Ontario's Insurance Act S.O. 1932, c.24, s. 4 is amended to make it an offence to discriminate between risks on the basis of race or religion of the insured person.


B.C.'s Unemployment Relief Act stipulates that B.C. cannot discriminate on the basis of political affiliation, race or religious when allocating farmland (S.B.C. 1933, c.71).


Under Manitoba's Libel Act, persons who are libelled because of their race or creed in ways that are likely to expose them to hatred, contempt or ridicule have the right to get a court order stopping the offender from publishing the libel.


S. 6 of Regulations under Ontario's Community Halls Act states that no organization shall be denied the use of halls erected under the act for religious, fraternal, or political reasons.


The Alberta Land Sales Prohibition Act, S.A 1942, c.16 makes it illegal for members of religious groups like Hutterites, Doukobhors, and enemy aliens to buy land.


Alberta's Land Sales Prohibition Act is struck down by the courts because it refers to enemy aliens. It is re-enacted to refer to religious Hutterites only (S.A. 1944, c.15).


In Re McDougall and Waddell [1945] 2 D.L.R. 244, the Supreme Court upholds a restrictive covenant which makes it impossible to sell the land involved in the case to non-gentiles.

In Re Drummond Wren [1945] O.R. 778 , a restrictive covenant restraining the sale of land to Jews is struck down as contrary to public policy and contrary to prevailing public opinion.

The B.C. Social Assistance Act S.B.C. 1945, c.62, s.8 prohibits discrimination based on colour, creed, race, or political affiliation in the administration of social assistance programs.


Ontario's Conveyancing and Law of Property Act is amended (S.O. 1950, c.11) to prohibit restrictive covenants based on colour, race, and creed.

Manitoba's Law of Property Act is amended (S.M. 1950 (1st Sess.), C. 33) to prohibit restrictive covenants based on colour, race, and creed.

In Noble and Wolf v. Alley [1951] S.C.R. 64, the Supreme Court strikes down a restrictive covenant prohibiting sale of land to Jewish or black persons on the basis that such a covenant does not relate to use of the land and is therefore void for uncertainty.

In R v. Boucher [1951] S.C.R. 265, the Supreme Court of Canada decides that handing out religious pamphlets by Jehovah's Witnesses does not constitute seditious libel and is therefore not a criminal act.


In Saumur v. City of Quebec [1953] 2 S.C.R. 299 , the Supreme Court of Canada strikes down a prohibition on the distribution of leaflets by Jehovah's Witnesses because it is restriction on freedom of religion.

Doukhobours are given the right to vote in B.C. elections.


Doukhobours are given the right to vote in federal elections (S.C. 1955, c.44, s.4).

The Quebec law which authorizes municipal councils to pass by-laws closing stores on Catholic Feast Days is struck down in Birks v. City of Montreal [1955] S.C.R. 799.


In Roncarelli v. Duplessis [1959] S.C.R. 121, damages are ordered against the Premier of Quebec when a liquor license is cancelled arbitrarily as part of actions designed to punish Jehovah's Witnesses.


The Canadian Bill of Rights receives Royal Assent.

Alberta's Communal Property Act is amended to permit increased land holdings by Hutterites with the approval of the Communal Property Control Board.


In Robertson and Rosetanni v. R. [1963] S.C.R. 651, the Lord's Day Act, which prevents businesses from opening on Sunday, is upheld.


The validity of Alberta's Communal Property Act is upheld in Walter et al v. Attorney General of Alberta et al [1969] S.C.R. 383.


The Criminal Code makes it a crime to advocate genocide or publicly incite hatred against people because of their colour, race, religion or ethnic identity.


Alberta's Communal Property Act is repealed (S.A. 1972, c.103).


The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is enacted as part of the Constitution Act, 1982.


The Supreme Court decides that adherence to the tenets of the Catholic faith is a valid occupational requirement for a Catholic teacher in a Catholic school in Caldwell v. Stuart [1984] 2 S.C.R. 603.

The courts adopt the concept of "adverse effect" discrimination in Ontario (Human Rights Commission) v. Simpson-Sears Ltd. [1985] 2 S.C.R. 536.


Sunday closing laws are a violation of freedom of religion in R. v. Big M Drug Mart 1 S.C.R. 295.

In Bhinder v. C.N.R. [1985] 2 S.C.R. 561, the Supreme Court of Canada decides that accommodation is not a function of the "bona fide occupational qualification" test, and once a BFOQ is proven, the employer has no duty to accommodate .


In Zylberberg v. Sudbury Board of Education (1988) 65 O.R. (2nd) 641, reciting the Lord's Prayer in school is found to violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.


Requiring an employee to work on days which his or her religion prohibits is found to be discrimination in Central Alberta Dairy Pool v. Alberta (Human Rights Commission) [1990] 2 S.C.R. 489.

In R. v. Keegstra (1990) 1 C.R. (4th) 129 (SCC), the Supreme Court of Canada decides that s. 319(2) of the Criminal Code, which makes it a crime to wilfully promote hatred against a person because of their colour, race, religion or ethic identity, is a reasonable limit of free speech under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.


In R.v. Zundel [1992] 2 S.C.R. 731, the Supreme Court of Canada strikes down the Criminal Code prohibition against spreading false news because it violates freedom of expression under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

An employer and a union are required to reasonably accommodate an employee whose religious beliefs prevent that employee from working on a particular day in Central Okanagan School District No. 23 v. Renaud [1992] 2 S.C.R 970.


The Supreme Court of Canada decides that a teacher's conduct out of school is relevant to the ability to perform the job in the classroom in Attis v. N.B. School District No. 15 Board of Education [1996] 1 S.C.R. 825.


Reciting the Lord's Prayer before council sessions is found to violate freedom of religion in Freitag v. Penetanguishene (Ont. C.A., September 23, 1999).