Supreme Court of Canada rules religion dogma not decided by courts of law.
01, June 01, 2018 - Filed in: Court Cases
"The Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses is a voluntary, religious association. A member must live according to accepted standards of conduct and morality. A member who deviates and does not repent may be asked to appear before a Judicial Committee of elders and may be disfellowshipped. In 2014, W was disfellowshipped after he engaged in sinful behaviour and was considered to be insufficiently repentant. The decision was confirmed by an Appeal Committee. W filed an originating application for judicial review pursuant to Rule 3.15 of the Alberta Rules of Court seeking an order of certiorari quashing the Judicial Committee’s decision on the basis that it was procedurally unfair. The Court of Queen’s Bench dealt with the issue of jurisdiction in a separate hearing. Both the chambers judge and a majority of the Court of Appeal concluded that the courts had jurisdiction to consider the merits of the application."
The S.C.C. held (9:0) the appeal is allowed and the originating application for judicial review quashed.
Justice Rowe wrote as follows (at paras. 2, 36, 39):
"...Mr. Wall sought to have the Judicial Committee’s decision reviewed on the basis that the decision was procedurally unfair. There are several reasons why this argument must fail. First, judicial review is limited to public decision makers, which the Judicial Committee is not. Second, there is no free-standing right to have such decisions reviewed on the basis of procedural fairness. In light of the foregoing, Mr. Wall has no cause of action, and, accordingly, the Court of Queen’s Bench has no jurisdiction to set aside the Judicial Committee’s membership decision. Finally, the ecclesiastical issues raised by Mr. Wall are not justiciable.
...courts should not decide matters of religious dogma. As this Court noted in Syndicat Northcrest v. Amselem, 2004 SCC 47,  2 S.C.R. 551, at para. 50, “Secular judicial determinations of theological or religious disputes, or of contentious matters of religious doctrine, unjustifiably entangle the court in the affairs of religion.” The courts have neither legitimacy nor institutional capacity to deal with such issues, and have repeatedly declined to consider them: see Demiris v. Hellenic Community of Vancouver, 2000 BCSC 733, at para. 33 (CanLII); Amselem, at paras. 49-51.
...Both the Congregation and Mr. Wall argued that their freedom of religion and freedom of association should inform this Court’s decision. The dissenting justice in the Court of Appeal made comments on this basis and suggested that religious matters were not justiciable due in part to the protection of freedom of religion in s. 2 (a) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms . As this Court held in RWDSU v. Dolphin Delivery Ltd.,  2 S.C.R. 573, at p. 603, the Charter does not apply to private litigation. Section 32 specifies that the Charter applies to the legislative, executive and administrative branches of government: ibid., at pp. 603-4. The Charter does not directly apply to this dispute as no state action is being challenged, although the Charter may inform the development of the common law: ibid., at p. 603. In the end, religious groups are free to determine their own membership and rules; courts will not intervene in such matters save where it is necessary to resolve an underlying legal dispute."
Note: The summary and body are drawn from Eugene Meehan’s SupremeAdvocacy Weekly Updates for the Law Community.