Mouvement laïque québécois, et al. v. City of Saguenay, et al.

(Quebec) (Civil) (By Leave)


Human rights - Freedom of religion (s. 2(a)).


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Human rights - Freedom of religion - Municipal by-law providing for recitation of prayer before start of municipal council’s public meetings - Whether Court of Appeal applied proper standard of review to decision of Human Rights Tribunal with regard to issues relating to expert evidence, adverse effect on freedom of conscience, religious nature of prayer, Tribunal’s jurisdiction to deal with issue of religious symbols, discriminatory effect of religious symbols, discriminatory nature of municipal by-law, prejudice and orders for redress and compensation - Whether Court of Appeal misapplied rules governing presentation of evidence of discrimination - Whether Tribunal’s decision on issue of extrajudicial costs wrong.

The appellant Mr. Simoneau is a non-believer and, at the relevant time, was a citizen of the respondent City of Saguenay. He attended the meetings of the municipal council. A municipal by-law provided that council members who so wished could stand and say a prayer at the start of council proceedings. In addition, near the mayor, there was a crucifix at the La Baie town hall and a statue of the Sacred Heart at the Chicoutimi town hall.

Mr. Simoneau and the Mouvement laïque québécois eventually filed an application against the City and its mayor with the human and youth rights tribunal. They alleged that the respondents had, in a discriminatory manner on the ground of religion, violated Mr. Simoneau’s freedom of conscience and religion and his right to respect for his dignity (ss. 3, 4, 10, 11 and 15 of the Charter of human rights and freedoms). They asked that the recitation of the prayer cease and that the religious symbols be removed from the proceedings rooms. They also claimed damages for the moral prejudice suffered by Mr. Simoneau, exemplary damages and extrajudicial costs.

The tribunal allowed Mr. Simoneau’s application in part, but the Court of Appeal set aside the decision on the ground that the content of the prayer did not violate the duty of neutrality imposed on the City and that, in any case, even if the recitation of the prayer interfered with Mr. Simoneau’s moral values, the interference was trivial or insubstantial in the circumstances.