On November 12, Justice Rosalie Abella issued an order allowing CCCC to intervene in the case Aga v Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church of Canada.
For the second time in three years, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) will hear a case about the right of a church to determine their own membership rules without court review. In 2018, the SCC decided in the Wall case that courts had no basis to interfere with church decisions on membership unless there was a legal right at issue.
The Aga case originates out of Ontario. The Ontario Court of Appeal (ONCA) held that church decisions can be reviewed by courts since, in the court’s view, membership is a contractual relationship between the church and the member. The ONCA went so far as to say that donations from members to the church constitute a legal obligation that is enforceable in civil court. This is a dramatic departure from the law that has up to this point seen donations as voluntary.
The Canadian Centre for Christian Charites (CCCC) applied to the SCC to argue that tithes are not given to a church out of legal obligation; rather, donations flow from religious worship. Such giving is motivated by faith as congregants are moved to give back to the church a portion of their material blessings. The SCC has allowed CCCC to submit a 10 page written submission on this point.
It is especially important that the SCC re-establish certainty in the law, especially as it pertains to the ability of voluntary communities to freely determine membership in accordance with their own culture, beliefs, and practices. Without such clarity, we will have significant confusion in the charitable sector.
In addition to CCCC, intervention status was also granted to the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and the Catholic Civil Rights League (jointly); the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association; the Association for Reformed Political Action Canada; the Canadian Civil Liberties Association; the Watch Tower Bible and the Tract Society of Canada; the British Columbia Humanist Association; the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada, the Christian Legal Fellowship; the National Council of Canadian Muslims; and the Egale Canada Human Rights Trust.
The hearing, which will be held virtually as a result of COVID-19 pandemic, is set for December 9, 2020.