As with all of the human rights protected in the Charter, the rights in s. 14 may be subject to reasonable limitations that can be demonstrably justified in a democratic society in accordance with s. 7 of the Charter.


Among the rights protected in s. 14, limitations have only been accepted in international human rights law on the right to demonstrate religion and belief. They have not been accepted in relation to the right to have, and to adopt, a religion of one’s choice or to hold opinions without interference.


Limitations on the right to demonstrate religion and belief have been justified by reference to public health, public safety and the protection of the rights of others.


Some examples that have arisen in international cases of reasonable limitations on the right to demonstrate one’s religion or belief are:

  • A Sikh man was dismissed from his job with a Canadian state railway company after refusing to wear safety headgear. He argued that the dismissal violated his right to demonstrate his religion by wearing a turban. The Canadian Government maintained that the restriction on his freedom to demonstrate his religion was a justified measure for public health and safety. The UN Human Rights Committee accepted the Canadian Government’s argument.118
  • In certain contexts, limits on the rights of teachers or students to wear religious apparel
    or symbols in state schools has been upheld, 119 but in other contexts such restrictions have
    been said to be a violation of religious freedom. (Any restrictions in Victoria on religious apparel in government schools would need to be justified under s. 7.)
  • A prisoner who was dangerous and violent was not permitted to be present for communal worship in prison, although he was given private access to a chaplain.
  • An example from New Zealand involved a person who was a Seventh Day Adventist appealing a sentence of periodic detention which required him to attend a program on a Saturday morning (his Sabbath). Although attending the program would have been contrary to his religious beliefs, the court held that the limitation on his right was reasonable and there was no breach of his right to demonstrate his religion or belief.


If you think your policy, program or legislation may be a limitation on the rights protected in s. 14, it is important that you examine the specific circumstances when applying s. 7 to determine if the limitation is reasonable. Consult Part 2 of these Charter Guidelines for further guidance on s. 7.

 

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118 Singh Binder v. Canada, Human Rights Committee, Communication No. 208/1986, UN Doc. CCPR/C/37/D/208/1986 (28 November 1989).

119 Dahlab v. Switzerland (2001) v. Eur Court HR 447 (ser A). See also Leyla Sahin v. Turkey, Application No. 44774/98 (Unreported, European Court of Human Rights, Grand Chamber, 10 November 2005) which also involved the issue of whether a prohibition on wearing the hijab violated the right to manifest one’s religion.