In 2015, LEAF hosted a symposium on Religion and Equality rights, bringing together experts to address the tension in Canadian law between these two Charter rights. Over the years, LEAF has intervened in debates regarding this area of the law. This history and these debates are canvassed in LEAF’s comprehensive report providing a feminist, equality-rights based approach to religious freedom in Canada.
LEAF advocates for an approach to religious freedom that is grounded in the following fundamental principles: women’s substantive equality, intersectionality, inclusivity, and challenging norms to promote equality. Substantive equality can be best achieved by foregrounding the actual effect of laws and their application on the lived experiences of women, taking into account religious freedom and religious, cultural or communal practices. Intersectionality requires the recognition that multiple axes of discrimination require multiple axes of analysis, including race, socio-economic status, immigration status, and religious community. Inclusivity includes the perspectives of marginalized groups in legislative projects and adjudication. The fourth principle is the commitment to challenging norms so as to ensure that the assumptions and logics of legal, social and economic analysis aim to promote equality.
This report assesses legal and legislative developments in the area of religious freedom through this lens. It concludes that courts continue to struggle with applying an intersectional analytical framework and to challenge mainstream norms. Further, legislative initiatives such as the Québec Charter of Values demonstrate how stereotypical depictions of religious groups are used to further exclude marginalized groups, such as religious and immigrant women, who already face systemic inequality. (See LEAF’s recent statement on the passage of Bill 62, a more recent embodiment of this problem, here.)
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides a framework for reconciling, accommodating and if necessary, balancing rights. Rights must be interpreted and applied in a purposeful and contextual way that promotes substantive equality. Applying LEAF’s four guiding principles – substantive equality, intersectionality, inclusivity and challenging norms – will bring us closer to genuine and meaningful reconciliation of gender equality with religious freedom.