Canadian Court Rules in Favor of Religious Day Observance

The Canadian Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, has upheld the right of a religiously observant person to take religious days off from work without jeopardizing his employment.

The complainant, Jim Christie, is a member of the Worldwide Church of God, a Christian denomination that observes the Sabbath on Saturday, similar to the Jewish tradition. It also observes other religious days on which, as in Judaism, work is not performed.

In 1983, Christie was fired from his job at the Central Alberta Dairy Pool, a milk-producing and processing company, because he stayed away from work on a day of religious observance.

The Alberta Human Rights Commission, which held an inquiry, maintained that discrimination existed in the case.

But the Dairy Pool successfully defended its action in the Alberta courts. It argued that “regular attendance at work, in accordance with an established work schedule, was a bona fide occupational qualification” under the province’s human rights legislation, which took precedence over an employee’s hardship.

Justice Bertha Wilson of the Supreme Court ruled that “the onus” rests with the employer “to show that it made efforts to accommodate the religious beliefs of the complainant up to the point of undue hardship.”

The Canadian Jewish Congress, which had intervenor status in the case, hailed the decision as “one additional step on the way to protecting Canada’s minorities.”

According to Joseph Wilder, chairman of the CJC’s National Joint Community Relations Committee, “it will no longer be possible for employers to use economic regulations, like hours and days of work, to trample over the minority religious beliefs of their employees.”

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