Balancing Act – Freedom of Association vs. Freedom of Religion

The various rights and freedoms protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are sometimes at odds. Where does my religious right end yours begin? When two protected rights are at odds, who wins? According to recent news reports, a dispute of this nature has recently arisen in northern Ontario between a furniture company and its employees, after the employees attempted to organize.

Following a union certification vote, 69% of the employees at the company voted in favour of unionization. In response, the owner of the company closed shop. The business-owner cited his religion as justification for shutting the business’ doors after 18 years in operation. The owner stated that his religious beliefs prevented him from being in business with a labour union. The union has since filed Unfair Labour Practice complaints with the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

The Supreme Court of Canada has held that there is no “hierarchy of rights” – that all rights are equal. Accordingly, this case will be one to watch, as the OLRB’s treatment of these complaints will provide interesting guidance on how to attempt to reconcile competing rights and freedoms in the labour relations context.


  1. David Collier-Brown

    That’s going to be interesting: the philosophical position strikes me as correct, but suggests the possibility of deadlock.