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RELIGIOUS INSTITUTIONS - Membership - Liability in contract

Thursday, February 20, 2020 @ 10:30 AM  

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Appeal by the plaintiffs from summary judgment dismissing their action alleging that they were expelled from the congregation of the respondent church in violation of their rights. The appellants argued the respondents failed to follow their own internal procedures in deciding to expel them from the congregation and that the appellants’ right to natural justice and freedom to practise their religion were violated in expelling them from the congregation. The motion judge held there was no underlying contract and therefore no justiciable issue in respect of the claim that the respondents failed to follow internal church procedures in expelling the appellants.

HELD: Appeal allowed. The motion judge erred in finding there was no evidence of an underlying contract between the parties. The appellants were not simply adherents of the faith. They applied to be members of the congregation and offered consideration in the form of monthly payments. They entered into a mutual agreement to be part of the congregation and abide by the governing rules, whether or not they were specifically aware of the terms. The rules governing the treatment and discipline of members were set out in the constitution and the bylaws. There was evidence of recognition by the church and its leadership of its contractual obligations to abide by the rules when seeking to expel a member. It was not clear whether the respondents followed the provisions in the constitution and bylaws. The respondents failed to adduce information in their control in respect of the imposition of suspension and expulsion, how expulsion was defined in the constitution and/or bylaws, and how, if at all, expulsion differed from loss of membership.

Aga v. Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church of Canada, [2020] O.J. No. 68, Ontario Court of Appeal, K.M. van Rensburg, D. Paciocco and J.A. Thorburn JJ.A., January 8, 2020. Digest No. TLD-February172020007