Supreme Court

Religious Institutions

Jurisdiction of civil and criminal courts


Judicial review of decisions of voluntary associations, including religious groups, limited to public decision makers

Applicant, member of Jehovah’s Witness congregation, was disfellowshipped by congregation’s Judicial Committee. Applicant filed originating application for judicial review pursuant to R. 3.15 of Alberta Rules of Court seeking order of certiorari quashing decision on basis that it was procedurally unfair. Court of Queen’s Bench and majority of Court of Appeal concluded that courts had jurisdiction to consider merits of application. Congregation appealed to Supreme Court of Canada. Appeal allowed. Application quashed. Review of decisions of voluntary associations, including religious groups, for procedural fairness is limited. Judicial review is limited to public decision makers, which Judicial Committee is not. Judicial Committee was not exercising statutory authority. There is no free-standing right to procedural fairness absent underlying legal right. Matters in issue fell outside court’s jurisdiction. Ecclesiastical issues raised by applicant were not justiciable. 

Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Judicial Committee) v. Wall (2018), 2018 CarswellAlta 1044, 2018 CarswellAlta 1045, 2018 SCC 26, 2018 CSC 26, McLachlin C.J.C., Abella J., Moldaver J., Karakatsanis J., Wagner J., Gascon J., Côté J., Brown J., and Rowe J. (S.C.C.); reversed (2016), 2016 CarswellAlta 1669, 2016 ABCA 255, Marina Paperny J.A., Patricia Rowbotham J.A., and Thomas W. Wakeling J.A. (Alta. C.A.).

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