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Anne-France Goldwater: A quasi-victory in the Saguenay prayer case

This morning, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against the city of Saguenay and mayor Jean Tremblay over a dispute about Christian prayers during the city’s public council meetings.

There is interesting nuance in the Supreme Court judgment in the Simoneau case. The order of invalidity of by-law VS-R-2008-40 applies only in favour of Mr. Simoneau. This by-law is what formally instituted the recitation of the prayer in the municipal council meetings to begin with.

So, does this mean that Mr. Simoneau is forever going to have to attend every meeting of the municipal council, as a sort of paragon of religious freedom? Should he choose not to attend on any given day, the municipal council will be free to pray its collective butt off. As I see it, if the Court thought it so important to emphasize that its injunction was granted in favour of Alain Simoneau, then it is he who has the right to invoke the judgment.

Otherwise, the Court would be doing precisely what it said it cannot and must not do, namely, act outside the jurisdiction of the original tribunal which had no power to invalidate the by-law.

Some victory!

What is important, I suppose, is that at least the Supreme Court reminded us that the state duty of neutrality in religious matters means absolute indifference to religious observance or inobservance. State neutrality means neither supporting any particular religion nor supporting atheism or agnosticism. Multiculturalism requires the state to tolerate – and accommodate! – both religious observance and inobservance («croyance et incroyance»). And this is pursuant to the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms!

This reassures me that the promoters of the veil-bashing Charte do not have a hope in hell of getting their legislation passed. Hoorah!

Anne-France Goldwater is the founder and senior partner at Goldwater, Dubé.