In Institut de taoïsme Fung Loy Kok c Ville de Montréal 2021 QCCS 3873 (CanLII) [In French], a judge in the Québec Superior Court has concluded that it is.
The applicants sought exemption from property, municipal and school taxes on the grounds that Taoist Tai Chi as practised, taught and disseminated in Canada by the Chinese monk Moy Lin-Shin was to be regarded as a religion rather than as a regime of physical exercise, and that the Institut de taoïsme Fung Loy Kok (“The Institute”), which offers Tai Chi classes in return for payment. was a religious institution qualifying for exemption from those taxes [1 to 5].
The objects of the Institute are:
“(a) To establish, maintain and conduct Taoist temples and shrines following the teachings of the Taoist religion and to carry on the teachings and practices of the Taoist religion;
(b) To conduct public or private meetings of a religious nature such as religious services;
(c) To establish, maintain and conduct classes on Taoist philosophy and religion, and related subjects, for the education of the general public; and
(d) To promote awareness and understanding of Taoist philosophy and Chinese culture” [50: In English in the judgment].
Further, the information on the trademark for Taoïst Tai Chi granted in 2012 by the Canadian Intellectual Property Office began the list of its services as follows:
“(1) Providing religious, spiritual and cultural practices, teachings and ceremonies
(2) Providing religious, spiritual and cultural instruction, teaching and training
(3) Providing religious, spiritual and cultural demonstrations, meetings and exhibitions
(4) Providing religious, spiritual and cultural seminars, workshops, classes and training
(5) Providing facilities for religious, spiritual, social and cultural activities
(6) Providing facilities for the operation of community centers for religious, spiritual, social and cultural activities…” [54: In English in the judgment]
Yergeau JCS noted that “religion” appeared at the top of the list of fundamental freedoms enshrined both in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and in the Québec Charte des droits et libertés de la personne. That was not surprising, and in either case, freedom of religion went hand in hand with freedom of conscience: everyone was free to adhere to a religion or not to do so , though belief alone, individual and isolated, was not enough to establish the existence of a religion . That said, however, just as it was important to distinguish between “religion” and “belief”, one had also to take care not to reduce the notion of “religion” to questions of freedom of religion or belief .
The rituals, the spiritual importance of Taoist Tai Chi, its practices and the proselytism inherent in its spirit of openness to all without regard to their personal convictions, were values shared by members of the Fung Loy Kok community. Fung Loy Kok was not merely a fiction constructed from scratch in order to conceal a lucrative activity ; the evidence supported the existence of a genuine community . Nor was it for the Court to judge the depth of the religious conviction of its members or to establish a threshold below which the label of “religious institution” would be refused to it: “To venture down that path would lead the Court to interfere in intimate beliefs” [S’aventurer dans cette voie conduirait le Tribunal à s’ingérer dans des croyances intimes] .
In Syndicat Northcrest v Amselem 2004 SCC 47 (CanLII), the Supreme Court had said, per Iacobucci J at :
“… the State is in no position to be, nor should it become, the arbiter of religious dogma. Accordingly, courts should avoid judicially interpreting and thus determining, either explicitly or implicitly, the content of a subjective understanding of religious requirement, “obligation”, precept, “commandment”, custom or ritual. Secular judicial determinations of theological or religious disputes, or of contentious matters of religious doctrine, unjustifiably entangle the court in the affairs of religion” .
On that basis, the evidence supported the conclusion that Fung Loy Kok met the necessary conditions to be classified as a religious institution within the meaning of Article 204:12 of the Québec Loi sur la fiscalité municipale . [With thanks to Howard Friedman for drawing the case to my attention.]