Religious freedom must include protection for Indigenous peoples’ sacred sites: Case before the Supreme Court of Canada could mark important turning point in Canadian law

A case before the Supreme Court today provides a crucial opportunity to bring Canadian law into line with international human rights standards and global precedents protecting the sacred sites of Indigenous peoples.
“The Charter protection of religious freedom is a vital part of the framework of human rights protection in Canada,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International. “However that Charter guarantee would be hollow if Canadian law fails to provide adequate protection for the sacred sites necessary to the practice of First Nations, Metis and Inuit religions and spiritual beliefs.”
The Ktunaxa people, a First Nation in the BC interior, are fighting the planned development of a ski resort that the Ktunaxa says will degrade and deny them access to an area they consider to be of vital importance because they believe it is the home of the Great Bear spirit.
The Ktunaxa are arguing that their religious beliefs and spiritual practices were not properly considered in the decision to approve the project and that this violated both the Constitutional protection of Aboriginal rights and the Charter protection of religious freedom.
Amnesty International, represented by Ecojustice, was granted intervenor status and filed a written submission to the Supreme Court arguing that the protection of religious freedom in international human rights standards, and in the laws of many other countries, includes protection of sacred sites. The submission further argues that interpretation of the Charter protection of religious freedom would be discriminatory if it excluded adequate protection of sacred sites in the natural landscape that are often central to the practice of Indigenous peoples’ religions and spiritual beliefs.
“Canadian law must be more responsive to the vital importance of the natural environment in all our lives, including the significance of sacred sites to the rights of Indigenous peoples,” said Margot Venton of Ecojustice.
“The Supreme Court’s decision in this case could be an important step toward bringing Canadian law into line with the environmental protections already recognized and enjoyed in many other countries.
For further information, please contact Margot Venton, Ecojustice  (604) 349-2333
Elizabeth Berton-Hunter, Media Relations, Amnesty International 416-363-9933 ext 332