Ontario Civil


Court had to circumscribe extent to which it became involved in affairs of religious organization

Application for interlocutory injunction preventing respondents church and elders, from holding church meeting and for mandatory order requiring respondents to admit additional persons to church membership. Church elders called meeting to discuss and vote on whether to terminate senior pastor. Senior pastor called his own meeting following church service to oppose his termination and invite those present who were not members and wished to support him to attend members meeting at which time membership applications would be processed. Elders met prior to senior pastor’s meeting and decided they would not recommend admission to membership any person who had not already applied and been interviewed by elders. Elders believed their process for membership would result in fair and appropriate process in order to avoid unmanageable process designed to introduce new members so as to materially change membership composition in order to affect decision on whether to terminate senior pastor. Applicants acknowledged church constitution required three-step process for admission to membership but submitted they were trying to ensure spirit of church constitution and guiding principles, including general fairness were observed. Application granted in part. In considering whether to interfere in religious affairs of church or other religious organizations, courts must be sensitive to “interplay between civil law and internal law of religious organization” and should only interfere where process was unfair and did not meet rules of natural justice. Had elders simply left decision as to whether senior pastor should be terminated or not to membership, court would have no jurisdiction to intervene. However, elders decided to add additional 12 members, thereby increasing church membership by 20% which was significant, considering no more than five new members had been added in any given year and traditionally new members were not presented until annual meeting. Process adopted by elders was unfair. Elders not permitted to proceed with meeting to vote on pastor’s termination. Twelve people in issue were entitled to submit names for consideration as members. Court had to circumscribe extent to which it became involved in internal affairs of religious organization. Order ensured that court provided level playing field that was fair to everyone, such that ultimate decision with respect to future of senior pastor would be made by members and not court.

Diaferia v. Elliott (Mar. 7, 2013, Ont. S.C.J., M.L. Edwards J., File No. CV-13-113333-00) 227 A.C.W.S. (3d) 1149.

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