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Church congregation asks top court to keep hands off membership decisions

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The judicial committee of a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses asked the Supreme Court of Canada today to rule that Canadian courts do not have the authority to review the expulsion of one of their members — arguing that judicial review by the courts should not extend to decisions by private and voluntary associations that have no effect on the public at large.

The Highwood Congregation, located in northwest Calgary, brought its appeal to Ottawa after Randy Wall took the congregation to court for expelling him from the church. The congregation’s judicial committee “disfellowshipped” Wall in the spring of 2014 after his family reported to the group’s elders that he had been drunk on two occasions and was verbally and emotionally abusing them — and after determining he was not “not sufficiently repentant” for those actions.

After three internal and unsuccessful appeals, Wall applied for judicial review of the congregation’s decision-making process, insisting it was flawed and that the congregation’s judicial committee had “breached the principles of natural justice and the duty to be fair.” Both the Court of Queen’s Bench and Court of Appeal in Alberta declared that it is within the jurisdiction of the superior court to review Wall’s case.

The congregation’s appeal of those two rulings, heard by the Supreme Court Thursday morning, has attracted a lot of attention from legal experts and religious communities across the country. Echoing the congregation’s plea today in the packed Ottawa courtroom were 12 religious, political and civil liberties groups — all of them unanimous in arguing the top court should not interfere in the membership decisions of religious bodies.

The consequences of such interference, they said, would be detrimental to the self-determination of religious groups.

“It (would) fundamentally alter our nation and not for the better,” counsel for the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms said in court.

“The wish or desire of one person to associate with an unwilling person (or an unwilling group) is not a legal right of any kind,” the group wrote in its written submission to the Supreme Court. “For a court, or the government, to support such a ‘right’ violates the right of self-determination of the unwilling parties.”

This question of jurisdiction is one that has been explored and decided on by the courts — including the Supreme Court of Canada — in the past. Case law shows the top court has recognized the the autonomous ability of religious and private voluntary associations to govern their own affairs and dictate who can and cannot be a member of a congregation.

The courts have determined, however, there is room to intervene in specific cases when a membership decision turns on property or civil rights — or is of “sufficient importance to deserve the intervention of the court.”

Wall — who does not dispute the allegations against him that formed the basis of the congregation’s decision to kick him out — argues his case meets those requirements because his “disfellowship” caused him to lose business clients, suffer “significant economic harm” and experience fraught family relations.

In return, the congregation argues that neither Wall’s property rights, nor his civil rights, were affected by their decision. Justice Russell Brown also remarked during the hearing that “one does not have a justiciable right to earn a living.”

The congregation also argued that it did not ask or force its members to boycott Wall’s business — but people choose to do so in line with their religious convictions. Counsel for the congregation also said that “the door is not closed” to Wall and he can be reinstated in the congregation in the future.

More generally, the congregation argued that it would be inappropriate for the courts to review the internal decision-making processes of religious groups because those processes are ecclesiastical.

In a news release, the Association for Reformed Political Action — one of the 12 intervening groups — said the case before the Supreme Court has “profound implications for the separation of church and state” and it believes the court should maintain a hands-off approach to membership decision-making by religious groups.

“Secular judges have no authority and no expertise to review a church membership decision,” the association’s director of law and policy, André Schutten, wrote in the statement. “Church discipline is a spiritual matter falling within spiritual jurisdiction, not a legal matter falling within the courts’ civil jurisdiction. The courts should not interfere.”

The Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association took a slightly more nuanced position, arguing in its factum that “there will inevitably be cases where judicial intervention in the decisions of religious groups is ‘warranted'” but courts “should intervene … only in the rare case where required by a prevailing public interest.”

Thursday’s hearing was heard by all nine justices on the Supreme Court bench. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin said the court will reserve its decision after today’s hearing.

Overflow seating was set up in the front hall of the Supreme Court to accommodate all the people who came to see the hearing live.

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      En junio de 2017, descubrió que tenía linfoma de Hodgkin, una forma de cáncer, y tuvo que comenzar la quimioterapia.
      Este tratamiento, sin embargo, a menudo requiere transfusiones de sangre. Sin ella, la paciente podría morir o sufrir un daño neurológico irreversible, dijo su médico.
      Los Testigos de Jehová no aceptan transfusiones de sangre.
      La decisión del juez Granosik fue rendida el 1 de septiembre.
       
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      A judge has authorized a Montreal hospital to perform blood transfusions to treat a 14-year-old teen with cancer, despite her refusal because she is a Jehovah's Witness.
      By allowing transfusions, the court ruled that it is lawful to protect children, sometimes "against themselves," when their decisions can be fatal.
      Under Quebec law, minors over the age of 14 can refuse certain health services. However, if the child’s parents or a hospital--in this case, the McGill University Health Centre--wants to administer those services, they can seek a judge’s permission.
      Superior Court Judge Lukasz Granosik said in his decision that the teen is "a brilliant, articulate girl" who is very successful at school and has a "maturity beyond her biological age," but that she was not yet mature enough to decide for herself, and was under pressure from her parents who are also Jehovah's Witnesses.
      Granosik also noted the girl spoke of death with "resignation," despite having a 97 percent chance of recovery if she underwent treatment.
      In June 2017, she found out she had Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer, and had to begin chemotherapy.
      This treatment, however, often requires blood transfusions. Without it, the patient could die or suffer irreversible neurological damage, her doctor said.
      Jehovah’s Witnesses do not accept blood transfusions.
      Judge Granosik’s decision was rendered on Sept. 1.
      - With a report from The Canadian Press

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    • By Bible Speaks
      QUEBEC, CANADA
      A judge orders a 14-Year-old witness to be baptized with blood.
      A judge from Quebec has decided that a 14-Year-old Jehovah's witness who has cancer must undergo blood transfusions, despite his express desire not to receive them.
      The Adolescent, who is not named, learned in June that she has hodgkin's lymphoma, a rare form of cancer affecting white blood cells. He has an excellent survival rate, if it's early.
      Treatment involves chemotherapy, which often requires blood transfusions. But as Jehovah's witness, the faith of the girl states that it is against God's desires to consume or be transfused with any blood.
      The girl, who had just turned 14 at the time of her diagnosis, refused to accept any transfusion.
      Under the québec law, children under the age of 14 may reject certain health services. However, if the parents of the child or a hospital want to administer these services, they may request the permission of a judge.
      In his decision issued earlier this month, judge lukasz granosik noted that the girl had embraced his religion at an early age and was baptized at 12 years of his own agreement.
      McGill University Health Center, where the girl was being treated, argued that the girl was not mature enough to make those decisions and was under the pressure of her parents to refuse transfusions.
      In his judgement, granosik noted that the girl was brilliant and expressive, but also said he was talking about death "almost with resignation".
      Noting that the law is designed to protect children even from themselves, he ordered the girl to submit to any blood transfusion necessary to save his life
      The girl's Hematologist-oncologist says that the girl's prognosis with full treatment is excellent, with 97 percent of recovery possibilities.
      The hospital has promised to use blood transfusions only if the child's life is in danger, and use other methods to avoid transfusions when possible.
      No update on the current adolescent health status is known.

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    • By Bible Speaks
      The Quebec court requests the adoption of a collective demand for sexual abuse against Jehovah's witnesses
      A trial proposes to accuse the leadership of the religious organization in Canada and the United States to protect alleged abusers
      The lawsuit is looking for $ 250.000 per plaintiff for moral and punitive damages.
      Radio-Canada says that, if approved by the court, collective action will be the first of its kind against Jehovah's witnesses, a religious movement that is already the subject of several individual trials in the United States.
      It is now up to the québec high court to determine whether the application is sufficiently substantiated to authorize collective action.

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    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Quebec provincial police are investigating allegations of child sexual abuse by two members of a Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation in Mont-Laurier in the Laurentians, Radio-CanadaÂ’s investigative program Enquête has learned.
      Both men have been sanctioned through the churchÂ’s internal disciplinary process for dealing with allegations of child abuse, but congregation elders did not share their findings with civil authorities.
      One of the men being investigated, Michel Courtemanche, who has been expelled from the congregation, was acquitted of charges of sexual assault and indecent assault in 1996.
      However, the Sûreté du Québec has renewed its investigation of Courtemanche and has begun investigating another man, former congregation elder Georges Leclerc, based on new evidence from at least seven alleged victims.
      Leclerc has been stripped of his status as an elder, but he has not been arrested or charged, and he refused to speak with Enquête.
      Courtemanche has not been arrested or charged as a result of the new investigation and denies the allegations against him. In an interview with Enquête, he pointed to his 1996 acquittal.
      “My answer is there was a judgment on this based on very precise facts, and I was acquitted,” he said.
      At least 7 potential victims, police say
      Enquête spoke with Pénélope Herbert, the woman whose allegations of repeated sexual assaults starting when she was just 10 led to Courtemanche’s 1996 trial.  
      Carolle Poudrier, now in her mid-40s, also told Enquête of alleged sexual contact by Courtemanche, over a period of months when she was 11.
      In the case of Herbert, she said the assaults continued until she was 17 — even after her family moved from Mont-Laurier.
      “He would come to our house to say hello and would sleep over,” Herbert, now 42, told Enquête. “Those nights, he would come to my room. We’re talking total rape, those nights.”
      Carolle Poudrier told Enquête of alleged sexual contact by Michel Courtemanche, over a period of months when she was 11. (Jasmin Simard/Radio-Canada)
      Enquête has learned the SQ has interviewed more than 40 people, of whom seven have been identified as potential victims of either Courtemanche or Leclerc.
      Four of the seven, including Herbert and Poudrier, have now filed formal complaints with police. SQ spokesperson Martine Asselin told Enquête they’re now seeking other possible victims and witnesses.
      “We’re looking to identify other potential victims who perhaps feel they’re alone and aren’t ready to talk,” Asselin said.
      “They should know that investigators are ready to meet with them and witnesses.”
      Both men were friends
      According to Enquête, Leclerc and Courtemanche were friends around the time Herbert’s parents lodged an internal complaint with the congregation about the alleged assaults on their daughter.
      Leclerc was, as a congregation elder, a senior member of the congregation who is responsible for providing religious guidance and ruling on disciplinary matters.
      Enquête said Leclerc allegedly did not speak to Herbert to learn the details of her complaint, as required by Jehovah’s Witness protocols in such matters.
      Courtemanche was later reprimanded and allowed to remain in the congregation.
      Georges Leclerc and Michel Courtemanche were friends around the time Pénélope Herbert’s parents lodged an internal complaint with the congregation, according to Enquête. (Jasmin Simard/Radio-Canada)
      Disillusioned with how the JehovahÂ’s Witnesses had handled her complaint, Herbert took her allegations to police in 1995.
      Courtemanche remained a Jehovah’s Witness after his acquittal but was expelled in 2014, Enquête found, after two other women filed internal complaints alleging he had assaulted them as minors.
      Leclerc remains with the Mont-Laurier congregation, but Enquête says he was stripped of his elder duties after at least three women filed complaints internally with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, alleging he had assaulted them when they were minors.
      Police, youth protection not notified of allegations
      According to Enquête, the first time police investigated Herbert’s allegations against Courtemanche in the mid-1990s, they were not aware Carolle Poudrier’s parents had also alleged Courtemanche had assaulted their daughter.
      Poudrier’s parents were members of a congregation in Terrebonne, just north of Montreal, and had filed their complaint there — not with Courtemanche’s congregation in Mont-Laurier.
      Poudrier alleged that Courtemanche, who was working for her dad, would make her sit on his lap so he could caress and tickle her, which made her uneasy. A few months later, he kissed her twice.
      “He asked me if I’d ever kissed anyone, and he put his tongue in my mouth. I found that disgusting,” Poudrier told Enquête.
      After she told her parents and they complained, Poudrier was made to recount what happened to a congregational elder in the presence of her father.
      Carolle Poudrier told what happened to a congregational elder in the presence of her father. (Jasmin Simard/Radio-Canada)
      “I was really stressed talking about sexual matters with a man I didn’t know, in front of my father. It was embarrassing,” Poudrier said.
      She said the elder thanked her for telling him what had happened and said that “he was there to take care of it.”
      In a lawyer’s letter to Radio-Canada, the elder in question, John MacEwan, said he knew Poudrier’s family but denied meeting with them concerning allegations against Courtemanche.
      When asked by Enquête if the Terrebonne congregation had shared the complaint against Courtemanche with his Mont-Laurier congregation, MacEwan refused to answer.
      Neither police nor youth protection authorities were ever notified of the alleged assaults on Poudrier.
      The JehovahÂ’s Witnesses leadership, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, has given preference to internal judicial procedures and protocols for dealing with matters such as child abuse.
      Carolle PoudrierÂ’s father, left, had worked with Michel Courtemanche, right. (Jasmin Simard/Radio-Canada)
      “In some jurisdictions, individuals who learn of an allegation of child abuse may be obligated by law to report the allegation to the secular authorities,” an internal memo to elders from 2016 reads.
      “In all cases, the victim and her parents have the absolute right to report an allegation to the authorities.”
      When it comes to sharing information with outside authorities, however, the leadership has insisted on maintaining confidentiality, citing privacy and the ecclesiastical privilege conferred by confessions.
      Enquête found there are as many as 30 steps a Jehovah’s Witness must take before that person is allowed to testify in court or furnish civil authorities with church documents, when it comes to matters of child abuse.
      “When you study the process, you realize it’s really a process for avoiding, a system for protecting the reputation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses,”  said Marilou Lagacé, a former Witness interviewed by Enquête.
      New instructions regarding allegations of child sexual abuse
      A recent royal commission in Australia found the JehovahÂ’s Witness church there had recorded allegations of child sexual abuse against 1,006 members over a 60-year period. Not one allegation had been reported to authorities outside the church.
      With pressure mounting in the wake of that royal commission and other allegations of sexual abuse of children in its ranks, on Sept. 1, the Watchtower Society issued new instructions regarding allegations of child sexual abuse.
      Those instructions recognize child sexual abuse as a crime and assert that members should be “clearly informed that they have the right” to report an allegation of abuse to police.
      “The congregation’s handling of an accusation of child sexual abuse is not intended to replace the secular authority’s handling of the matter,” the Sept. 1 letter reads.
      “Therefore, the victim, her parents, or anyone else who reports such an allegation to the elders should be clearly informed that they have the right to report the matter to the secular authorities.
      Elders do not criticize anyone who chooses to make such a report.”


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    • By Bible Speaks
      Have you attended the 2017 Don't Give Up convention yet? How many people attended? My convention was held in June, and was tied into the Special Convention in Toronto, where we had the privilege of listening to Brother Herd give a talk all 3 days! ?
      ~ Tap on Link to Video MP4 ___
      Video by @hcastrojr -
       
       
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Nació en una familia testigo de Jehová, se casó muy joven y vivió años de violencia, maltrato y humillaciones. Sin el apoyo de la congregación, terminó expulsada buscando su felicidad.

      “Creo que todos tenemos un llamado interior que nos dice qué nos hace felices y qué no, y cuando no lo sos si podes cambiarlo hay que hacerlo”, contó Graciela Quipildor, más conocida como La Quipi, a InformateSalta. Es que ella es dueña de una historia de quiebres y superación que muestra los vejámenes y el destierro de quien es expulsado de una congregación, en este caso testigos de Jehová.
      “Nací en una familia testigo de Jehová y lo fui hasta los 29 cuando me divorcié y fui excluida”. Se casó muy joven, a los 22, con alguien que profesaba la misma fe que ella. El matrimonio duró seis años y medio, terminó con un divorcio sobreexpuesto, muy desfavorable para ella, “me quedé sin nada”. 
      Transcurrido el primer aniversario, su marido cambió “comenzamos a tener problemas, se transformó en otra persona, se volvió un hombre violento, me maltrataba de todas las maneras posibles y cuando yo pedí ayuda a los ancianos de la congregación, que vendrían a ser el equivalente a un pastor o un cura solo me citaba un texto de la biblia que dice que la mujer sabia edifica su casa y la necia la destruye y me daban consejos para que yo no lo haga enojar”.
      Leer más: 
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