Supreme Court of Canada hears Justice Centre intervention in freedom of association case, Wall v. Jehovah’s Witnesses
OTTAWA ONTARIO : The Justice Centre will present oral argument before the Supreme Court today, asking the Court to overturn a lower court decision that violates freedom of association in the case of Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses et al v. Randy Wall. This hearing is open to the public, and is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. This hearing is also being webcast live from the Supreme Court of Canada website.
The Justice Centre’s filed factum can be viewed here. During oral argument the Justice Centre will explain from its unique and non-religious perspective that freedom of association under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Alberta Bill of Rights guarantees the freedom of private, voluntary associations to determine membership criteria. These associations must be free to enforce these membership criteria, immune from judicial review. In consequence, neither courts nor governments can legally compel citizens to associate together unwillingly.
“Freedom of association benefits not only religious institutions, but also Canada’s atheists and agnostics, and the many theists who do not embrace any particular religion,” stated Justice Centre president John Carpay.
“Improper judicial oversight in this case threatens every private organization and association in Canada,” continued Carpay.
Randy Wall became a Jehovah’s Witness (JW) in 1980, at the age of 20. In 2014, he was disfellowshipped (expelled) after a local church committee determined that he was not sufficiently repentant for having been drunk and verbally abusive to his wife.
Mr. Wall appealed his expulsion to a higher committee within the JW organization, and ultimately to the governing Watchtower Society of Canada, without success. He then took the JWs to court, arguing that he had been wrongly expelled, and that the hearings and the process were unfair. As a realtor, Mr. Wall also claimed to have lost about half of his client base, because JWs now refused to have any business dealings with him, or even speak with him.
Rather than recognize that freedom of association prevents government (including courts) from interfering with the membership decisions of private associations, the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench ruled that it had the jurisdiction to review the JWs’ membership decision. This ruling was affirmed by the Alberta Court of Appeal.