Cardus has covered the issues involved in Loyola et al vs. the Attorney General of Quebec on many occasions. Always our position is that the organizations of civil society, including those that are religiously motivated, must be free to participate without hesitancy in our public space. This is at the heart of our understanding of freedom and democracy.
I had the privilege of a front row seat at Monday's hearing. As befitting a Supreme Court, it is an impressive experience. Twenty-nine robed lawyers fidgeted nervously at the tables reserved for counsel, representing Loyola as the appellant, the Attorney General as the respondent, and the eleven organizations who had been granted intervener status. Chief Justice McLachlin presided over the arguments: an hour for the appellants' lawyer, followed by ten minutes for each of the seven interveners granted the right to make oral arguments. Finally, the respondent had an hour, the appellant ten minutes to respond. Throw in one 15-minute break and it was all over by lunchtime.
The judges on the bench allow the lawyer a few minutes to get started and into their grooves before the interrupting questions begin. To the appellants and supporting interveners, the questions had a similar theme. If you are going to argue freedom of religion, what about the state's right to promote diversity, tolerance, and respect? And when these two rights run into conflict, how do we define the balance?
For the respondent, the questions were also uncomfortable. Did the Minister seriously consider the different nature of a Catholic school in making her decision and was the logical implication that no religious school could ever teach a religiously-based equivalency of this curriculum? Is this indeed the minimal impairment of the freedom of religion rights of the appellants?
Mark Phillips (L), lead lawyer for Loyola, with Loyola principal Paul Donovan (R) during a break this morning
It would be chasing fool's gold to try and discern from the judges' questions what their ultimate decision will be. The debate now will take place behind closed doors as the seven justices consider the arguments heard, take a position, assign one of their own to write it up in careful legalese (knowing that every word will be parsed and shape literally hundreds of subsequent legal decisions), and finally—six to nine months from now—release it for the rest of the world to evaluate.
But regardless of the verdict, I'm grateful for three things:
Grateful for peace. How privileged we are to live in a country and at a time where such fundamental arguments are sorted out not with the sword but through civil discourse. One of the interveners quoted Luke 19 where the bureaucrats of the day asked Jesus to rebuke his disciples for promoting counter-cultural positions. Jesus replied that if his disciples were silent, the very stones would cry out. The stones that martyred Stephen were, this intervener suggested this morning, a foreshadowing of how fundamental religious freedom is and has been through history.
Grateful for institutions. If we had to rely on the personal opinions of the seven judges hearing the case, I would likely be extremely pessimistic. But we don't. The decision they render will not be their personal positions but an institutional position on behalf of a court that has heard evidence, considered it in light of the law and precedents, and will issue a decision in the name of the court. This court, which has carried the responsibility of being the final authority of appeal in our land since 1949, can't simply freelance. It must build on the shoulders of what has gone before. That doesn't mean it is a sure thing these honourable judges will get it right; there are many causes for concern in their recent record. But being steeped in our country's history will increase their chances. And, compared to the political options in most parts of the world, this too is a reason for hope.
Grateful for bravery. Faithful citizenship ultimately is not reflected by the response of others, but achieved only by our responsibility for our own actions. And today I witnessed a good number standing up for what they believe and understand to be true and right—not because it was popular or convenient, but because they believe it. Some of them spoke for me. And insofar as I have been privileged to play a minor role in the background of this case, I was involved in speaking up too. As a dad, neighbour, fellow-citizen and ultimately as someone who wants to look into the mirror with a clear conscience, taking the chance to speak up for what is right is a reward unto itself.