Tai Chi and religion in Canada: another view: FLK Institute of Taoism

In October 2021 we posted an article on Institut de taoïsme Fung Loy Kok c Ville de Montréal 2021 QCCS 3873 (CanLII), in which a judge in the Québec Superior Court concluded that Tai Chi was to be regarded as a “religion” for the purposes of exemption from property, municipal and school taxes on the grounds that Tai Chi was an element of Taoism. At [227], the Court cited Iacobucci J in Syndicat Northcrest v Amselem 2004 SCC 47 (CanLII), at [50], that:

“… 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”.

In FLK Institute of Taoism v MPAC 2022 ONSC 57 (CanLII), however, in an appeal against an assessment for municipal taxes on some of FLK’s properties, an Ontario Divisional Court took the opposite view.

The application judge had found that the properties on which the FLK held Tai Chi classes were not entitled to be classified as exempt [8], and the FLK submitted that she had erred in applying the proper legal test for an exemption under the Act, that the test of what constituted “worship” within the meaning of the legislation had been improper and that the facts of the case had been assessed “through an impermissible Judaeo-Christian lens thereby committing an error of law” [12].

The Divisional Court held that, notwithstanding the decision in Syndicat Northcrest, the issue before it “[did] not require the court to engage in questions of religious doctrine or arbitrate disparate views among a particular religious group” [33]. The application judge had held that the evidence supported MPAC’s position that persons engaged in the Tai Chi classes at the locations under dispute were not worshipping through Tai Chi [34] and that no exempting acts of worship were taking place [34]. There had been no error of law in her conclusions [36] and she had not applied “an improper analytical lens” in her judgment [41]:

“in order to create an exemption for those properties, those activities must constitute acts of worship, a more narrow form of activity than the simple act of conducting a practice that has religious connotation” [30].

Appeal dismissed [42].

One for the Supreme Court of Canada, perhaps?

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Tai Chi and religion in Canada: another view: FLK Institute of Taoism" in Law & Religion UK, 14 January 2022, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2022/01/14/tai-chi-and-religion-in-canada-another-view-flk-institute-of-taoism/

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