• The Scope and Content of Freedom of Religion in Canada. Laying the Ground for a thorough Discussion

Éditions Universitaires Européenes
Publication date:

(Delphine Nakache is a professor at the School of International Development and Global Studies (SIGDS), University of Ottawa. She teaches in the areas of public international law and migration and refugee law. Her research interests include securitization of migration and citizenship policies, as well as migration and human rights standards.)


Despite the absence of a separation of church and state in legal texts, the Canadian state must refrain from adopting measures that have the objective or the effect of restricting a religious belief/practice and favouring one religion over another. Yet a proper understanding of “state neutrality” within the Canadian context calls for a cautious interpretation of this term. First, church/state separation does not necessarily entail the removal of religion from public space. Second, given Canada''s multicultural tradition, freedom of religion has been interpreted as requesting the state to make reasonable accommodation for religious minorities if discrimination arises in the application of a norm or an otherwise legitimate public policy. Freedom of religion is not absolute, and courts have developed a two-step test to ascertain whether the infringement of the claimant''s religious freedom can be reasonably justified by state intervention. This test is not easy to apply for front-line decision-makers routinely faced with requests for accommodation. Key legal parameters, however, are worth considering.

MATERIA: Freedom of religion; minority rights; equality rights; discrimination; accommodation; multiculturalism