Race / Ethnicity / Religion

Race / Ethnicity / Religion is part of the Equality program. You can find more information about it on its main program page.

Recent Work

CCLA at Supreme Court on Important Freedom of Religion Case

By on October 14, 2014

The CCLA appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada as an intervener in the case of Mouvement laïque québécois, et al. v. City of Saguenay, et al. The appeal heard by the Court on October 14, 2014, centres on whether the recital of a prayer at the beginning of public city council meetings violates provisions of the Quebec charter of human rights and freedoms and, in particular, whether rights to equality and freedom of religion, are unjustifiably infringed.

Mr. Simoneau, a non-religious citizen of the respondent City of Saguenay attended the meetings of the municipal council. A municipal by-law allowed council members to stand and say a prayer at the start of council proceedings if they wished. Mr. Simoneau and the Mouvement laïque québécois filed an application against the City and its mayor with the province’s human rights tribunal alleging that they had violated Mr. Simoneau’s freedom of conscience and religion and his right to respect for his dignity (ss. 3, 4, 10, 11 and 15 of the Charter). They asked that the recitation of the prayer cease and that religious symbols be removed from the proceedings rooms. The tribunal allowed Mr. Simoneau’s application in part, but the Court of Appeal set aside the decision on the ground that the content of the prayer did not violate the duty of neutrality imposed on the City, and that even if the recitation of the prayer interfered with Mr. Simoneau’s moral values, the interference was trivial or insubstantial in the circumstances.

The CCLA’s position in the case is that State-sponsored religious coercion, in the form of the recital of a religious prayer at public city council meetings, violates the right to equality and freedom of religion and conscience, and that these violations cannot be justified under the either the Quebec or Canadian Charters.  There can be no justification for state compulsion in matters of belief, and the context of the particular case pointed to the bylaw’s clearly religious purpose and effect.

Read CCLA’s factum in the case here.

Federal Court Decides: Cuts to Refugee Healthcare are Shocking, Unconscionable, Unconstitutional

By on July 9, 2014

CCLA welcomes the decision of the Federal Court, reinstating healthcare that had been provided for more than 50 years to refugee claimants and others seeking Canada’s protection. 2012 cuts to this coverage, according to today’s ruling, had the effect of denying these individuals funding for life-saving medications such as insulin and cardiac drugs, for basic pre-natal, post-natal and obstetric care, or in certain instances, for any medical care at all.

As to the impact on children, the court described the 2012 changes as cruel, and described, for example, what the cuts would mean for a child “screaming in pain because of an ear infection,” who would not be entitled to see a doctor or receive antibiotics. The impact would be far more severe for others. Indeed, the court concluded, the 2012 cuts would potentially jeopardize the health, safety and the very lives of “innocent and vulnerable children in a manner that shocks the conscience and outrages our standards of decency.”

In addition, the court rejected stereotypical rationalizations for the healthcare cuts and discriminatory depictions of refugees as “bogus” or cheats. The court explained that children are innocent victims of family circumstances, and that individuals whose refugee claims ultimately fail may do so simply because of changing country circumstances or differing standards with respect to country conditions and safety.

In conclusion, the court held, the 2012 changes were discriminatory, and constituted “intentional targeting of an admittedly poor, vulnerable and disadvantaged group for adverse treatment,” thus violating sections 15 and 12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

CCLA welcomes the thoughtful and detailed decision of the Federal Court, that will restore healthcare for refugee claimants and others who are vulnerable and in need of protection.

To read CCLA’s 2012 letter to Minister Jason Kenney calling for him to rescind the cuts, see: http://ccla.org/2012/06/29/refugee-healthcare/ .

CCLA addresses the Toronto Police Services Board on “carding” and racial profiling

By on April 9, 2014

On April 8th, 2014, CCLA presented submissions to the Toronto Police Services Board on the issue of police carding and racial profiling. To its credit, the Board is working to develop its first-ever policy regarding “community contacts” – officers stopping and engaging members of the community in the course of day-to-day policing. Unless the police suspect that an individual is connected to a particular crime, the individual is under no legal obligation to speak with police. However, many “contacts” have taken place for years based not on consent or voluntary participation, but based instead on individuals’ lack of information about their rights; feelings of fear, intimidation and threat; power imbalances; and police conduct. At the TPSB meeting on April 8th, almost 20 activists and community members gave deputations before the Board, describing the devastating impact that random police stops have had on marginalized communities in Toronto, and urging the Board to end such stops.

CCLA presented a deputation and written submissions to the Board, focussing on ways the draft policy should be strengthened and clarified. In particular, we emphasized that informal interactions between police officers and community members (such as a greeting) cannot include questioning as to a person’s identity, address, where they are coming from or going, associates, and other personal information, and must be based on consent and voluntariness. We also highlighted the need for robust accountability mechanisms.

Read CCLA’s written submissions.

CCLA’s Opposition to the Quebec Charter of Values: Read our Brief

By on December 20, 2013

CCLA has submitted a brief to the Quebec National Assembly’s Committee on Institutions’ as part of its general consultation and public hearings on Bill 60.  Bill 60, or the Charter affirming the values of State secularism and religious neutrality and of equality between women and men, and providing a framework for accommodation requests, is a deeply troubling law that would infringe basic rights and cannot be justified in a free and democratic society.  In our submissions, CCLA argues that the Bill infringes freedom of religion, freedom of expression and the right to equality and to be free from discrimination.  CCLA also points out some concerning inconsistencies in the proposed law which would have a disproportionate impact on individuals from minority religious groups and, in particular, women from these groups.  We are urging the Quebec government not to move forward with the proposal and hope to have an opportunity to address the Committee in person in their public hearings, which are scheduled to start in mid-January, 2014.

Read CCLA’s brief here (English submissions follow French).

CCLA concerned about DNA testing of Migrant Workers

By on December 13, 2013

According to recent reports, a large number of migrant workers were approached by police and asked to provide DNA samples as part of an investigation into a sexual assault.  Although police reportedly had a description of the suspect, the group of individuals asked to give a DNA sample was diverse, ranging in age “from 21 to 61, with heights from five feet to six-foot-five, weighing between 130 pounds and 310 pounds.” The individuals’ only common feature, according to reports, is the colour of their skin.

CCLA is concerned about policing on the basis of racial characteristics and the use of random DNA tests, which are a highly invasive measure – and is looking into this matter.

To read more about CCLA’s work on racial profiling, click here.

To read more about CCLA’s work concerning random DNA testing, click here.

CCLA Calls on Police Services Board to Stop Racial Profiling and Carding

By on December 13, 2013

On November 18th, 2013, CCLA participated in a special community meeting held by the Toronto Police Services Board on racial profiling and carding.  The Board heard from 23 deputations on the Toronto Police Service’s PACER report, and on the response to it by Board Chair Dr. Mukherjee.

CCLA’s submissions called for an end to the practice of carding (or “street checks”) and the implementation of concrete measures to address race-based harassment.  Concrete measures should include:

  • a policy that sets out specific guidelines a to when police may stop and question individuals;
  • a policy that recognizes power imbalances between police officers and the individuals they stop;
  • accountability tools such as providing a carbon copy of (most of the) data recorded to the individual stopped; and
  • the creation of an independent external civilian oversight body.

To read CCLA’s submissions to the Board, click here.

CCLA McGill Law Chapter Presents Discussion on Charter of Quebec Values

By on November 25, 2013

WHERE: Moot Court, New Chancellor Day Hall, 3644 Rue Peel

WHEN: Monday, December 2nd, 2013, 5:30 PM


The Canadian Civil Liberties Association chapter at McGill Law is co-sponsoring a December 2nd round table discussion on the Charter of Quebec Values (also known as Bill 60). The event, organized by Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), will focus on legal and civil rights issues as they pertain to international and domestic human rights instruments, citizenship and labor relations. The panel will include legal and labor relations practitioners who have litigated or actively participated in legislation and public policy on these issues.

Alexa Conradi, President of the Fédération des femmes du Québec, will be the Opening Speaker.


The panel will include:

Vrinda Narain
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, McGill University

Shahad Salman

Dave Douglas
President, Concordia University Part-Time Faculty Association

David Birnbaum
Executive Director, Association of English-Speaking School Boards of Québéc

For more information visit https://www.facebook.com/events/579766118745869/?source=1.


CCLA Writes an Open Letter to Quebec Premier Pauline Marois

By on September 13, 2013

Read CCLA’s letter to Premier Pauline Marois on the proposed Quebec Charter of Values here.  Read the French version here.

Proposed Quebec Charter of Values Would Violate Fundamental Rights

By on September 11, 2013

The CCLA is deeply disturbed by the proposed Quebec Charter of Values introduced yesterday by the Quebec government.  The proposal includes a prohibition on public servants wearing overt or conspicuous religious symbols, including teachers, staff in hospitals and daycare workers.  It would also require that individuals have their faces uncovered when seeking or providing a state service.  The proposed changes would, in CCLA’s view, violate fundamental constitutional rights including freedom of expression, freedom of religion and the right to equality.  It is difficult to believe that if the proposal were passed into law, it could survive a challenge before the courts.   While governments may place reasonable restrictions on rights of expression, religion and equality, the proposed Quebec Charter fails to meet this standard.

The proposal purports to have as its purpose ensuring state neutrality, but the consequences of the proposed changes appear to do little to achieve that goal.  While CCLA is a supportive of ensuring that government is neutral with respect to religion, this requires that government not prefer one religious group over others and that it not endorse religious beliefs as those of the state.  Treating all public servants equally by allowing them to comply with their own religious beliefs and requirements, or simply wear something based on their cultural background, does not offend the state’s neutrality.  Unless there is a compelling reason to believe that the wearing of cultural or religious symbols interferes with a public servant’s ability to do their job, there is no basis for prohibiting them from doing so.  The proposed Quebec Charter is also telling for what it does not include.  In particular, the large crucifix that hangs in the National Assembly would be retained as part of Quebec’s “heritage” and the ban on those in the public service wearing conspicuous religious symbols would not apply to elected officials.

In a free and democratic society like Quebec, individuals are guaranteed the right to express themselves and manifest their religious beliefs.  The Quebec government’s proposal is a violation of these principles and cannot be supported.  CCLA will be engaging on this issue as it moves forward.

Quebec religious symbols ban: CCLA responds

By on September 11, 2013

The Quebec government announced yesterday that, under its proposed Charter of Values, “overt and conspicuous” religious symbols and religious garments would be banned from public service offices.

This would mean no burkas, turbans, hijabs, and other such religious wear permitted amongst those providing or receiving service in schools, courts, daycares, and other government-run workplaces.

Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, director of CCLA’s Equality Program spoke to the Canadian Press to provide our stance on the issue. “If we want to have diversity and equality in our society, we need to have diverse leaders, we need to have diverse role models… This proposal would essentially say that’s not possible, a person has to hide aspects of their diversity and certain people won’t be able to fill those roles at all,” she said.

Read the full Canadian Press article for more of Noa’s take on the Quebec Charter of Values.

As a leading voice on rights and freedoms in Canada, we here at CCLA expressed our concerns with a religious symbols ban when it was first proposed back in August. Check out Director of CCLA’s Fundamental Freedoms Program Cara Zwibel discussing the risks of the ban with CTV News.

And read Cara’s website post on the issue.

Check back here on our blog, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook, for more updates on the religious symbols ban as they develop.

Click here to learn more about our work on freedom of religion.