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Big M, Little Freedom: Accommodating Religion in a Secular Society

22 Pages Posted: 29 Jun 2009  

Suzie Chiodo

Rochon Genova LLP

Date Written: June 22, 2009


By seeing religion as an aspect of life instead of a framework of existence, Canadian courts have committed some fundamental errors in balancing religious freedom with other rights. Such pitfalls must be avoided if the protections for religious freedom (section 2(a)) and equality regardless of religion (section 15) in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are to retain any kind of meaning. These pitfalls include:

• The limitation of religion to the private sphere;
• Ranking freedom of religion below other equality rights such as sexual orientation;
• Using section 2(a) to impose freedom from religion, rather than freedom of religion;
• Assuming that ‘secular’ means non-religious or religiously neutral.

Landmark cases such as R. v. Big M Drug Mart Ltd. and Syndicat Northcrest v. Amselem have established several tests to guide courts in their consideration of religious freedom. When taken in conjunction with the preamble to the Charter, and the protections in sections 2(a) and 15, courts and human rights tribunals can avoid the above errors and ensure the preservation of freedom of religion together with other fundamental Canadian values.

Keywords: Religion, freedom, secular, Charter, rights, multicultural, values

Suggested Citation

Chiodo, Suzie, Big M, Little Freedom: Accommodating Religion in a Secular Society (June 22, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Suzie Chiodo (Contact Author)

Rochon Genova LLP ( email )

121 Richmond Street West
Suite 900
Toronto, Ontario M5H 2K1
416-363-1867 (Phone)


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