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Public Prayer Complaint Dismissed by Chief Commissioner

April 14, 2016

The Chief Commissioner of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission announced today that he has dismissed a complaint about the occurrence of public prayer at a City of Saskatoon volunteer appreciation banquet. The complainant had argued that the prayer interfered with freedom of conscience, contrary to Section 12 of The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code (the “Code”).

“Saskatoon is a modern and multicultural city, and the actions taken by municipal leadership must take into consideration that diversity,” said Chief Commissioner. “In dismissing this complaint, the Commission had to consider the issue of freedom of conscience with respect to the Supreme Court of Canada’s Saguenay decision.”

In the Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay (City) decision, Canada’s highest court clarified the importance of religious neutrality, stating that state actions cannot interfere with freedom of religion, and that interference occurs when a citizen cannot act in accordance with their beliefs. Interference must meet two criteria: (1) the complainant has sincerely held beliefs, and (2) the interference must not be trivial or insubstantial.

“In this situation, the prayer offered at the volunteer appreciation banquet may have been contrary to the need for separation of religion and state as described by the Supreme Court, but the interference did not meet the threshold of the Court’s test,” said Arnot. “The Commission also understands that the City of Saskatoon has terminated the practices that lead to the complaint, namely the offering of prayer at civic events.”

The Chief Commissioner took the unusual step of publicly releasing this dismissal, citing his authority under the Code, the Commission’s public education mandate, and the need to clarify the public record.

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