There were no reports of abuses of religious freedom. Issues involving the exercise of religious freedom at the federal and provincial levels included limits on religious expression and teaching, the use of religious clothing and symbols, and the practice of religious customs.
In December, the government announced that individuals must uncover their faces at public ceremonies when swearing the oath of citizenship. The minister of citizenship, immigration, and multiculturalism described the new rule as consistent with the country’s values of openness and equality. He also stated that the requirement enables citizenship judges to verify that each candidate recite the oath.
In December the Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments on whether individuals may wear a religious face covering while testifying in court. In 2010 the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled unanimously that judges must balance the religious freedom of participants to wear face coverings while testifying in court with the accused’s right to a fair trial. The Ontario court listed factors that judges should take into account, including whether the witness’s desire to wear the veil was motivated by religious belief and whether that belief was sincerely held. The court concluded that if the face covering impaired cross-examination of a witness, the court should order the veil removed.
In December the province of Quebec announced that correctional officers in provincial facilities may wear religious head scarves, or hijabs, at work. The decision resulted from a Muslim woman’s complaint, filed with the provincial human rights commission, arguing that the law prohibiting the wearing of the hijab was discriminatory.
In November the British Columbia Supreme Court upheld the federal law prohibiting polygamy, finding that the need to prevent “harm to women, to children, to society, and to the institution of monogamous marriage” outweighed any infringement of religious freedom. The provincial government had sought advice regarding the constitutionality of section 293 of the criminal code relating to multiple marriages following the government's failed prosecution of two members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on charges of polygamy.
In October the Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments on whether an individual's right to exercise freedom of speech and religion by distributing flyers denouncing homosexuality on religious grounds contravened a Saskatchewan law prohibiting hate speech. In 2010, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal had overturned the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission’s decision that the defendant had breached the province's human rights code.
In June the government of Quebec enacted new rules prohibiting religious instruction or religious activity at daycare centers receiving provincial government funding. The government cited the need for subsidized facilities to reflect openness and diversity. Daycare centers found to be violating the bar on religious teaching risked losing their subsidy. Some Quebec parents launched a legal challenge to the new policy.
In March the Quebec Court of Appeal heard arguments on whether the city of Saguenay could continue to display Catholic symbols at city council meetings and open the council’s sessions with prayers. The Quebec human rights tribunal had earlier ordered that the prayers be stopped and the religious symbols be removed from the council chamber.
In February the Quebec legislative assembly voted to ban the kirpan, a ceremonial dagger worn by some Sikhs, from its premises. Security agents had denied entry to the building to four members of the World Sikh Organization of Canada carrying the ceremonial daggers a month earlier.
In January the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruled that marriage commissioners could not cite religious beliefs as a reason to refuse to conduct same-sex marriages. The Saskatchewan government had asked the court to review a proposed law that would permit commissioners to refuse to marry same-sex couples on religious grounds. The court determined that the proposed legislation was unconstitutional as it discriminated against homosexuals. The provincial government announced that it would not appeal the January ruling.