Yesterday, the Supreme Court of Canada began hearing a precedent setting case that will determine if right to freedom of religion enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as is pertains to indigenous peoples is a shield or a sword. This has tons of relevance and much broader implications for all religious freedoms across Canada.
The court will decide if the Ktunaxa Nation, which for 25 years has battled plans to build a massive ski resort on their land which embodies the sacred spirit of the grizzly bear, can legally prevent the building of the Jumbo Glacier Ski Resort in the pristine South Eastern Purcell mountains of BC.
Justice Moldaver has made the distinction between shield and sword in this way. If religious freedom per the Charter is a shield then decisions will be made that protect one’s right to protection of freedoms (as the right to wear a hijab when working within the public sector, for eg). If it is a sword then it is an unfettered right that could trump other rights – as in this case the right of a developer to build property on that land. It is a fuzzy distinction at best. If the court does rule in favour of the Ktunaxa Nation, then the case will have far reaching implications in our multicultural/multifaith nation.