Members of Hutterite community in Alberta can be forced to have their pictures taken to get a driver's licence
Ottawa Canadian Press Last updated on Friday, Jul. 24, 2009 12:24PM EDT
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled 4-3 today to uphold provincial rules that make a digital photo mandatory for all new licences.
The goal of setting up a system that minimizes the risk of identity theft associated with drivers' licences is a pressing and important public goal, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote for the majority. The universal photo requirement is connected to this goal and does not limit freedom (of) religion more than required to achieve it.
Alberta introduced the new rules in 2003 as part of a face-recognition security measure to crack down on identity theft.
The Hutterite Brethren is a Christian sect that believes being photographed violates the second of the Ten Commandments forbidding idolatry. Hutterites had traditionally been allowed to carry special licences, and said the photo rule threatens their way of life.
The judgment is the latest twist in the legal debate over reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs and customs. Quebec in particular has grappled with the duty of the majority to condone minority beliefs. The Harper government recently dropped plans to pursue legislation that would force all voters including Muslim women to bare their faces when voting. As a minority government, it did so after calculating its chances of passing in the face of stiff opposition in Parliament.
And the Supreme Court tried to balance public safety and religious freedom in 2006 when it unanimously struck down a Quebec school board's ban on ceremonial daggers, or kirpans, worn by orthodox Sikh students.
Hutterites fled Russia for the Canadian prairies in the early 20th century to escape state oppression. They believe having their photo taken would violate the biblical commandment: You shall not make for yourself a carved image any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
Alberta started issuing drivers' licences with photos in 1974. An exception under provincial regulations was offered to those with religious objections until 2003.
By that time, there were about 450 special licences in circulation 56 per cent of them held by Hutterites. Lawyers for the colony argued that the province presented no evidence to show that the practice somehow constitutes a security threat. Federal lawyers warned that allowing a continuing exemption for Hutterites could increase the risk of forgery for a document used not just for driving but for identity purposes. They also raised the prospect of a flood of requests for religious-based exemptions.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which intervened in the case, said the province failed to weigh the impact of the new requirement on a farming colony that must drive for supplies and medical reasons. It also notes in its submission to the high court that Hutterites account for less than 1 per cent of Alberta licence holders, and are the only religious group ever granted the exemption.
The Alberta Court of Queen's Bench struck down the regulations. It ruled that the photo requirement violates Charter rights to freedom of religion.
The Alberta Court of Appeal upheld that finding in a split 2-1 decision but based its ruling in part on narrow legal grounds regarding the regulation of traffic safety.
Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre
Canada's Top court has again, very predictably made yet another "political
There are other alternatives that could solve the problem.
First, there needs to be an application for a religious exemption that only the most genuine and recognized people fall into. Simply saying photos are contrary to my religion should not be enough.
Second, there are now ways of identifying people, we have DNA, we have fingerprints, we have Iris Scans, facial recognition, voice prints.
To top it off, each person could have a high security chip embedded under their skin that no one else has and is virtually impossible to duplicate its coded responses.
The Government of Alberta could and should make the maximum possible allowances for genuine religious beliefs while at the same time protecting the public interest.
The possibility of obtaining a driver's license without a photo ID could require such exhaustive investigation and confirmation that such a license could well be one of the most reliable forms of identification.
The Supreme Court of Canada can be increasingly relied upon to abuse the minorities or the those who are politically incorrect for no legal reason but solely for reasons of political correctness.
While Canada's courts increasingly turn to the test of political correctness in making legal decisions, it drags Canada down a slippery slope that ends up in the legalization of lynch mobs that effectively deprives citizens of any legal rights.
The evidence is already overwhelming, Family Court Judges simply throw rules and code out the window to do indirectly what the law specifically prohibits.
Men in particular, frequently have all their legal rights removed, and are incarcerated because a dead beat judge removed all their legal rights to provide a full defense and answer.
The results in increasing generations of dysfunctional children. Some of those with the worst personality disorders get to become Family Court Judges.