In Ktunaxa Nation v. British Columbia (Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations), (Sup. Ct. Canada, Nov. 2, 2017), the Supreme Court of Canada rejected a claim by the aboriginal Ktunaxa Nation that government approval for the development of a ski resort on land they considered sacred would violate their constitutional right to freedom of religion under Section 2(a) of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as their Aboriginal treaty rights under Section 35 of the Constitution Act.  Chief Justice McLachlin, writing for 7 Justices held (as summarized by the court):… the Ktunaxa are not seeking protection for the freedom to believe in Grizzly Bear Spirit or to pursue practices related to it. Rather, they seek to protect the presence of Grizzly Bear Spirit itself and the subjective spiritual meaning they derive from it. This is a novel claim that would extend s. 2(a) beyond its scope and would put deeply held personal beliefs under judicial scrutiny. The state’s duty under s. 2(a) is not to protect the object of beliefs or the spiritual focal point of worship, such as Grizzly Bear Spirit. Rather, the state’s duty is to protect everyone’s freedom to hold such beliefs and to manifest them in worship and practice or by teaching and dissemination.Justice Moldaver, writing for 2 Justices, found a substantial interference with religious beliefs, but concluded that it was justified as a proportionate balancing between the Ktunaxa’s s. 2(a) Charter right and the Minister’s statutory objectives. The court summarized their conclusion as to infringement of religious liberty:… the Ktunaxa sincerely believe that Grizzly Bear Spirit inhabits Qat’muk, a body of sacred land in their religion, and that the Minister’s decision to approve the ski resort would sever their connection to Qat’muk and to Grizzly Bear Spirit. As a result, the Ktunaxa would no longer receive spiritual guidance and assistance from Grizzly Bear Spirit. Their religious beliefs in Grizzly Bear Spirit would become entirely devoid of religious significance, and accordingly, their prayers, ceremonies, and rituals associated with Grizzly Bear Spirit would become nothing more than empty words and hollow gestures. Moreover, without their spiritual connection to Qat’muk and to Grizzly Bear Spirit, the Ktunaxa would be unable to pass on their beliefs and practices to future generations. Lawyer’s Daily has a lengthy report on the decision.



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