September 29, 2011
Editor: Terrance S. Carter

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By Barry W. Kwasniewski*


In the past few years, high profile human rights decisions, such as Heintz v Christian Horizons,[1] have brought to the fore tensions between individuals and institutions with respect to the exercise of religious rights. These issues have caught the attention of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC).

Established in 1961, the OHRC is an independent statutory body, charged with the promotion, protection and advancement of human rights in Ontario. Headed by Chief Commissioner, and former Toronto Mayor, Barbara Hall, one of the mandates of the OHRC is to develop public policy on human rights in Ontario. On September 22, 2011, the OHRC announced an important initiative of interest to religious organizations in this province. This Bulletin summarizes the purpose of this community dialogue and how interested persons or organizations may take part.


In furtherance of its mandate, the OHRC will host a community dialogue on human rights relating to religious belief and practice in January, 2012. The dialogue will consist of the presentation and discussion of short papers with an invited audience of community members, academics and human rights lawyers and practitioners. The OHRC is currently accepting proposals for papers for this community dialogue, which should address at least one of seven themes:

1.   Human Rights and the protection of religious belief and practice in a secular society.

2.   Experiences and concerns of religious-identified individuals, groups and organizations in Ontario society as they relate to discrimination on the basis of creed/religion.

3.   Definitions and interpretations around the terminologies “creed” and “freedom of religion”.

4.   Inclusive design and the accommodation of religious belief and practice in diverse organizational contexts.

5.   The impact and use of creed-based human rights on and by non-religious-identified groups and/or minorities within religious groups.

6.   Intersections of creed and other human rights protected grounds.

7.   How the “special interest organization exemptions” in the Ontario Human Rights Code from the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of creed have been exercised and concerns that might arise from this exemption.

The special interest organization exemptions, which have been subject to a substantial amount of tribunal and judicial interpretation in recent years, are set out in sections 18 and 24(1)(a) of the Code:

Special interest organizations

18.  The rights under Part I to equal treatment with respect to services and facilities, with or without accommodation, are not infringed where membership or participation in a religious, philanthropic, educational, fraternal or social institution or organization that is primarily engaged in serving the interests of persons identified by a prohibited ground of discrimination is restricted to persons who are similarly identified.

Special employment

24.  (1)  The right under section 5 to equal treatment with respect to employment is not infringed where,

(a) a religious, philanthropic, educational, fraternal or social institution or organization that is primarily engaged in serving the interests of persons identified by their race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, creed, sex, age, marital status or disability employs only, or gives preference in employment to, persons similarly identified if the qualification is a reasonable and bona fide qualification because of the nature of the employment


The deadline for submission of proposals is October 14, 2011, the selection of proposals will be confirmed by November 1, 2011 and the deadline for submission of full papers will be December 7, 2011. Selected papers may also be published on the OHRC website and in journal format.

Individuals or organizations who have an interest with respect to how religious rights in Ontario may develop in the future should consider participating in this dialogue. Those interested in making submissions should consult for more information about acceptable themes of submissions and the selection process for submissions.



* Barry W. Kwasniewski, B.B.A., LL.B., practices employment and risk management law with Carters’ Ottawa office and would like to thank Michelle Thériault, B.Soc.Sc. (Hons.), J.D., Student-at-Law, for her assistance in the preparation of this Bulletin.

[1] Heintz v. Christian Horizons (2008), 65 C.C.E.L. (3d) 218 (Ont. Human Rights Trib.), aff’d 2010 ONSC 2105 (Div Ct). For a discussion and analysis of this decision, see Jennifer M. Leddy and Terrance S. Carter, “Divisional Court Decision Provides Mixed Results in Christian Horizons Appeal,” Church Law Bulletin No. 29, May 26, 2010.


DISCLAIMER: This Church Law Bulletin is a summary of current legal issues provided as an information service by Carters Professional Corporation. It is current only as of the date of the Bulletin and does not reflect subsequent changes in the law. The Church Law Bulletin is distributed with the understanding that it does not constitute legal advice or establish the solicitor/client relationship by way of any information contained herein. The contents are intended for general information purposes only and under no circumstances can be relied upon for legal decision-making. Readers are advised to consult with a qualified lawyer and obtain a written opinion concerning the specifics of their particular situation.
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