Understanding Freedom of Conscience

Policy Options

Brian Bird*

The year 2017 marks the 150th anniversary since Confederation and the 35th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. By virtue of a court case in Ontario that might go all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada, 2017 may also be the year when freedom of conscience — until now a dormant Charter freedom — is brought to life.

In June, Ontario’s Divisional Court heard arguments in a case that challenges a policy in Ontario obliging physicians to provide an effective referral if they conscientiously object to performing a medical procedure. An effective referral means that the objecting physician must promptly direct the patient to a physician who will perform the procedure. In May, two of the lawyers representing the side that is challenging the policy outlined their position in Policy Options. In essence, they argue that the policy unduly infringes the freedom of conscience and religion of physicians who refuse on the basis of those Charter grounds to participate in medical procedures. . . [Full text]

 

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