Issues involving the exercise of religious freedom at the federal and provincial levels included limits on religious expression.
In April an Ontario judge ruled that a female Muslim complainant had to remove her religious face covering to testify during a sexual assault trial. In 2012, the Supreme Court had ruled that presiding trial judges should determine whether individuals could wear religious face coverings while testifying in court on a case-by-case basis. The complainant appealed the trial judge’s decision that she should remove her face covering, and the appeal remained pending at the end of the year.
On February 19, the government established an Office of Religious Freedom within the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development headed by an official of ambassadorial rank to protect and advocate on behalf of religious minorities under threat around the world, to oppose religious hatred and intolerance, and promote pluralism and tolerance abroad.
On March 5, Canada assumed the chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and hosted the Alliance’s annual conference in October in Toronto. The conference approved a working definition of Holocaust Denial and Distortion as a public education and awareness tool. Events throughout the year in support of Holocaust education and remembrance included a national project to preserve survivor testimony, an Award for Excellence in Holocaust Education to recognize outstanding teachers, and a poster competition for Canadian graphics, art, and design students to support Holocaust Memorial Day activities.
On April 23, the government announced the selection of a site in Ottawa for a National Holocaust Monument. The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism attended the National Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony hosted by the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem and the Zachor Coalition and lit candles in memory of victims.
In May the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled that the mayor of Saguenay, Quebec, could continue to begin council meetings with a prayer and retain a crucifix and Christian religious statue at city hall. A citizen had challenged the official prayer and the religious symbols as an infringement on freedom of conscience. The court ruled that religious neutrality does not require “that society be cleansed of all denominational reality” and that the act of prayer by individual councilors, and the retention of the religious symbols as cultural artifacts, did not indicate that the municipal council was under the influence of, or trying to impose, a particular religion.
On February 27, the Supreme Court ruled that restrictions imposed by Saskatchewan’s hate speech law constituted reasonable limits on freedom of expression and freedom of religion to prevent harm to minority groups. The decision was part of a 2011 appeal regarding a citizen who had handed out fliers denouncing homosexuality on religious grounds.
On September 13, the Manitoba government enacted an anti-bullying law requiring public and private schools in the province to establish diversity policies and accommodate student activities that promote inclusion, including permitting gay-straight alliances (student-led organizations that promote inclusion among persons of all sexual orientations). Some faith-based schools and parents stated that the law infringed on their freedom to prohibit student activities that contradicted their religious beliefs.
On August 21, Agnes Maltais, the Quebec minister responsible for the status of women, wrote to her federal counterpart stating that some speakers at an upcoming Muslim youth conference in Montreal “convey values that are totally contrary to the principles of gender equality that are defended in Quebec.” The letter referenced a 2011 Quebec National Assembly motion requesting that Canada refuse entry to speakers at a similar event. In her letter, the minister requested that “in accordance with the  National Assembly motion and as the Minister responsible for the status of women in Quebec, I ask you to take all necessary measures to prevent the spreading of these inacceptable messages to the women in Quebec.”