Religious Institutions in Canada

AuthorM.H. Ogilvie
The 2011 National Household Survey (“2011 NHS”)1 lists some ninety-
f‌ive different religious groups large enough to be counted as separ ate
religious institutions for censu s purposes. Six major religious g roups
are tabulated, all of which, except for Judaism, are compri sed of numer-
ous sub-groups, including six Catholic, forty-seven P rotestant, thirteen
Orthodox, eleven Eastern Non-Chr istian, and twelve non-traditional
religions (such as New Age, Scientology, Rastafarian s, and Satanists).
Each of these religious in stitutions typically has nat ional, regional, and
local organizations a nd structures, regulated partly by the laws and
customs of the institution and pa rtly by the laws of Canada, and it may
be estimated, therefore, that there are well in excess of 15,000 individ-
ual units of these religious institutions operating w ithin the countr y.
The succeeding chapters of this t reatise will d iscuss the civi l law
applicable to religious institutions in Ca nada. This chapter will intro-
duce brief‌ly the various polities, inter nal organizational structu res, and
1 The 2011 National Household Survey repl aced the long-form census in 2011 and
was voluntar y in nature. However, it is the most recent nat ional religion survey
at the time of wr iting and its results a re used in this chapter. Al l such surveys
represent how citi zens surveyed self-ident ify and the membership num bers
kept by individu al religious groups are alway s much lower. For detailed religion
statistic s, see online: www.statca
dispute resolution processes for the larger religious institutions, meas-
ured by 2011 NHS population membership.2
Since the common law regards religious in stitutions as voluntary
organizations, self-governed by contract, t he courts defer to the laws
and customs of religious inst itutions, enforcing these except where
some internal irregularity has occurred or the rules of natural justice
have not been applied.3 In Lakeside Colony of Hutterian Brethren v. Hofer,4
the Supreme Court of Canada looked to the constitution of the Hutter-
ites, the articles of as sociation of the colony, and the oral traditions and
customs of the Hutterites, as well as federa l incorporating legislation
and the common law principles of natural justice in order to determine
whether the correct procedure had been followed in expel ling a col-
ony member. Moreover, in Pederson v. Fulton,5 a lower court declined
to hear an appeal of an ecclesi astical dispute because, inter alia, it had
not fully exhausted the hierarchy of church courts within t he Roman
Catholic Church, thereby indicating that ecclesiastical di sputes should
only be appealed into the civi l courts after the highest inter nal tribunal
has sp oken.6 Thus, the civil court s both judicially review and defer, if
appropriate, to the practices and procedures of religious institutions.7
The 2011 NHS indicated that al most sixty-seven percent of Can-
adians identif y, at least for census purposes, with a Christ ian denomin-
ation, therefore it is necessary to de scribe in this chapter how the
various branches of Christianity are organi zed in relation to ecclesi-
2 The introductory n ature of this chapter ca nnot be overstated. Its purp ose is to
alert law yers acting for religious inst itutions to the necessit y for consulting and
considering t he laws and customs of relig ious institutions when adv ising them.
3 See, generally, M.H. Ogilv ie, “The Legal Status of Ecclesi astical Corporations”
(1989) 15 Can. Bus. L.J. 74; “Church Property Dispute s: Some Organizing
Principles” (1992) 42 U.T.L.J. 377; “Ecclesiastical Law — Jurisd iction of Civil
CourtsGoverning Documents of Religions Institutions Natural Justice :
Lakeside Colony of Hutte rian Brethren v. Hofer” (1993) 72 Can. Bar Rev. 238. For
recent church proper ty disputes in which the cou rts enforce internal r ules, see
Chapter 8, Section L , and M.H. Ogilvie, “Three Recent C ases Conf‌irm Cana dian
Approach to Church Prope rty Disputes” (2015) 93 Can. Bar Rev. 537.
4 (1992), 97 D.L.R. (4th) 17 (S.C.C.).
5 (1994), 11 D.L.R. (4th) 367 (Ont. Gen. Div.).
6 Cf. Davis v. United Church of Canada (1992), 92 D.L.R. (4th) 678 (Ont. Gen. Div.)
in which the cour t heard an appeal that had not yet gone to e ither the General
Council or the Judici al Commission of the church.
7 This may be cont rasted with the pos ition in the U.S. where deferral to th e highest
tribuna l in an ecclesiastica l hierarchy has create d a virtually autonomous sphere
for churches by vir tue of judicial interpret ation of the free exercise cl ause in the
First Amendment : Watson v. Jones, 80 U.S. 679 (1871); and Jones v. Wolf, 413 U.S.
595 (1979). See, generally: John Witte, Jr. & Joel Nichols, R eligion and the Ameri-
can Constitutional Experiment, 4th ed. (Oxford: Ox ford University Pres s, 2016).
Religious In stitutions in Canada 57
astical polity, legal structure, and di spute resolution. Then, brief con-
sideration will be given to the legal orga nization and dispute resolution
processes of the non-Christian religious groups in Ca nada, which con-
stitute approximately eight percent of the population, with the remain-
ing approximately twenty-four percent of the population reporting no
religious identity at all.8
Every Christian denomination is either episcopal, presby terian, or
congregational in polity, that is, in its government, administration,
and judicial procedures.9 This threefold division dates from the Prot-
estant Reformation of the Western Chr istian church in the si xteenth
century when presbyter ian and congregational polities were created
in response to the Protestant re-evaluation of the evidence in the New
Testament concerning the primitive Chr istian communities of t he f‌irst
century A.D. In keeping with the doctrine of the exclusive prim acy of
Scripture (sola scriptura) in Protestant t heology, both the Calvinist and
Anabaptist movements, but not the Anglican or Lutheran movements,
within the Reform ation, renounced episcopacy as unscriptur al and
found scriptural authority in stead for presbyterian and congregational
polities respectively.
The evidence of the New Testament is ambiguous. Since both Jesus
and his early dis ciples, including Paul, whose letters are the primar y
8 As a predominantly Chr istian country si nce its colonial beginni ngs, virtually
all of the common la w is about disputes withi n Christian denomin ations, there-
fore the emphasi s in this chapter on Chri stian polities ref‌lect s the reality of reli-
gious litigat ion as well as the census stat istics. As Canad a becomes increasingly
multicultura l, litigation is likely to ref‌lec t that evolution, so that future ed itions
of this book w ill do so as well.
9 There are a number of dictionar ies of Christian ity, of which the followi ng are
widely regarded a s the best: F.L. Cross & E.A. Liv ingstone, eds., The Oxford
Dictionary of th e Christian Church, 3d ed. rev. (Oxford: Oxford Universit y Press,
2005); Alan Richa rdson & John Bowden, eds., A New Diction ary of Christian
Theology (1989; repr., London: S.C.M. Pres s, 2009); J.D. Douglas, ed., A New
Internati onal Dictionary of the Chris tian Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan,
1978); Sinclair B. Ferguson & David F. Wright, ed s., New Dictionary of Theology
(Leicester, U.K.: IV Press, 1988); Erw in Fahlbusch et al., ed s., The Encyclopedia
of Christianity, 5 vols. (Grand Rapid s, MI: Eerdmans, 1999–200 8); and Walter A.
Edwell, ed., Evangelic al Dictionar y of Theology, 2d ed. (Grand Rapid s, MI: Baker,
2001). For a principle-based compari son of law across different polit ies, see
Norman Doe, Chr istian Law: Contemporary Princ iples (Cambridge: Cambr idge
University Pre ss, 2013).

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