Canadian Appeal Court decision made the news: Judges can overturn unfair church edicts

by AndersonsInfo 44 Replies latest jw friends

  • Simon

    Just saw it on CBC (and it's also been in the Calgary Herald):

    Alberta court weighs in on jurisdiction over religious groups following expulsion of Jehovah's Witness member

    The Alberta Court of Appeal ruled Randy Wall has right to have application heard in Calgary court

    Alberta courts are wading into the controversial territory of jurisdiction over religious organizations after the Alberta Court of Appeal decided to allow the Court of Queen's Bench to hear an application relating to the 2014 expulsion of a member of the Highwood Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses.

    The appellate court sided with Randy Wall, a local real estate agent and member of the Congregation who faced expulsion after admitting to being drunk on two occasions and verbally attacking his wife.

    Two of the three appeal judges dismissed the application from the congregation with a dissenting opinion from Thomas W. Wakeling, who wrote that the congregation is a private organization that is "like a bridge club."

    "The decisions the bridge club makes – when and where to meet, the obligations of the host, the duration of a session, who may be invited as a guest when a regular is unavailable – are not enforceable promises and have limited, if any, impact outside its small circle."

    "I'm very impressed with the dissenting judge," said David Gnam who represents the congregation.

    That dissenting opinion gives the congregation an automatic right to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada but Gnam says the decision is still in the hands of his clients.

    "I'm still in process of formulating my recommendations to my clients and will leave it to them to make that decision," said Gnam.

    It's been nearly 25 years since the country's top court visited the issue of judicial jurisdiction over religious organizations.

    In 1992, the court ruled that religious groups had to give details relating to the reasons for expulsion to members in order to give them an opportunity to respond.

    'Alleged wrongdoing involves drunkenness'

    In 2014, Wall was accused of "alleged wrongdoing involves drunkenness" and was directed to appear before the Judicial Committee of the Highwood Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses. That committee was comprised of four elders.

    Wall told the panel his behaviour stemmed from stress related to the expulsion of his 15-year-old daughter who he and his wife were required by the church to shun.

    The congregation had already kicked the teen out of the community and as a result, even though she was a dependent child living with her parents, the family was pressured to evict the girl from the home, leading to "much distress."

    At the meeting, Wall admitted he'd been drunk twice that he'd verbally abused his wife once.

    The judicial committee found Wall was "not sufficiently repentant" and he was disfellowshipped, a decision that then compelled his wife, children and other Jehovah's Witnesses to shun him.

    Wall appealed that decision and a panel of three elders was selected and asked to consider "the mental and emotional distress he and his family were under" following his daughter's disfellowship but the committee sided with the original panel's decision.

    Church's appeal avenues exhausted

    Finally, Wall sent a letter of appeal to the Watch Tower and Bible Tract Society of Canada but he was told the Canadian Branch would not overturn the decision.

    After exhausting the church's appeal avenues, Wall made an application with the Court of Queen's Bench in Calgary which ordered a hearing to first determine if there was jurisdiction for the court to hear the application.

    A judge decided that the superior court did have jurisdiction to hear the application because "he was satisfied the disfellowship had an economic impact on [Wall]."

    The congregation and its judicial committee then appealed Wall's right to have a Court of Queen's Bench judge hear his application.

    One of the congregation's arguments was that the Court of Queen's Bench judge erred when he found the religious practice of shunning infringes civil and property rights.

    1992 Supreme Court of Canada decision

    That was one of the grounds for the judge finding the court did have jurisdiction to "review the merits of a membership decision of a voluntary religious association."

    Wall said his clients refused to do business with him following his expulsion because they were from the Jehovah's Witness congregation. For that reason, he argued his property and civil rights were affected by the disfellowship so the court had jurisdiction to hear the application.

    The 1992 Supreme Court decision regarding a Hutterite man who was expelled from his Manitoba colony noted that the courts "are slow to exercise jurisdiction over the question of membership in a voluntary association, especially a religious one."

    The exception was when property or civil right hinged on membership.

    Since 1992, there have been other cases that set the precedent for courts to have jurisdiction when "there has been a breach of the rules of natural justice or the complainant has exhausted the organization's internal processes."

    Wall argued the internal process was unfair — that the church's framework for expulsion was unclear.

    He submitted that he wasn't told whether he could retain a lawyer, if there would be a record of the proceedings, the details of the allegations against him or whether there would be written reasons for the committee's decision

    On the basis of those allegations, and because Wall had exhausted all avenues of internal appeal, the panel found the Court of Queen's Bench has jurisdiction to hear the application.

    Wall, who represented himself could not be reached for comment.

  • Vidiot

    I don't think this is about "forcing" his former congregation members to "re"-associate with him. At this point, he could probably care less if they accepted him back, officially or otherwise.

    This is about exposing the WTS's newly-reiterated position of expelling a DFed minor from home (and thusly the WTS itself) as what it is...

    ...cruel, inhumane, and hypocritical.

    Seems like every new rule they staunchly double down on these days is specifically designed to provoke the wider world to say "WTF is wrong with you people???"

    Like refusing to provide the pedo DB and Loche for testimony, I'm left asking myself "are they crazy, or just plain stupid?"

  • sir82

    It makes me at least a little uneasy, the thought of government inserting itself into internal church affairs, JW or otherwise.

    On the other hand, no matter how it turns out, it is a PR nightmare for the WTS. If this case gets any sort of traction in the news, normal people will think "what kind of nutball evil cult expels 15 year old girls and forces family & friends to shun them???"

    There is no good way to spin that.

  • Londo111

    I wish US government would insert itself like this. Government should act to the benefit of the rights of individuals over the supposed rights of organizations, religious or not.

  • OrphanCrow

    This could get interesting. The trial will pit secular law against religious law.

    This could have some far reaching consequences

  • SAHS

    “William Penwell”: “I can see the WT, if they haven't already done this, getting elders to sign some sort of release saying that any decisions made by a local JC be held solely libel and the WT is off the hook. In other words if anyone is ever sued would be the local JC, leaving the WT off the hook.

    According to the WT, whenever it comes to their authority structure in the consideration of any policy or teaching, the governing body is always held up as the final word, no matter what. (I.e., “Do whatever we say, or else! We’re Almighty God’s one-and-only mouthpiece on earth!”) However, whenever it comes to any kind of specific liability or accountability issues, then the WT will always say, “Oh, well, that must be a decision made by one of our lowly congregations, which all operate independently from us here at WT headquarters, so therefore it’s their own fault and responsibility. But not us here at WT. Oh, no, we have nothing to do with what any of our lowly, independent congregations do!” (But, of course, the WT still wants to keep financial ownership and control of all those lowly little Kingdom Halls and their properties!)

  • SAHS

    “OrphanCrow”: The 15 year old child that was shunned and the parents being pressured by the elders to kick her out of the home - depriving a child of shelter and home is a violation of the International Rights of the Child. That could become an issue as well in this case.

    Good point – especially considering the gravity with which the law deals with other matters relating to minor children, such as sexual dealings with anyone under the legal “age of consent,” or even parents being arrested for just letting their child walk unattended to play on the swings at the nearby park! But parents actually kicking their own 15-year-old child out on their own just to comply with a dark-ages-style religious outfit like the WT seems even more dangerous, and damaging, on so many levels.

  • Scully

    David Gnam who represents the congregation

    The spawn of Satan himself. ::: shudders :::

  • wannaexit

    The spawn of Satan himself.

    Well said Scully

  • Chook

    They would NEVER make disfellowshipping a conscience matter due to the family wreckage left in its past. Could you imagine you deserted your DF'd parents until they died and some didn't even attend their funerals. Anger would rise .

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