OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada is due to release a decision today in a case that hinges on freedom of religion and how indigenous spirituality should be protected under the Charter of Rights.
The Ktunaxa Nation appealed to Canada's highest court after courts in British Columbia refused to stop a proposed ski resort at the foot of Jumbo Mountain and Jumbo Glacier, 55 kilometres west of Invermere in southeastern B.C.
The Ktunaxa consider the land sacred and say construction of the resort would interfere with religious practices involving the spirit of the grizzly bear.
They argue Charter protection for freedom of religion must include not only spiritual practices, but also underlying sacred sites and spiritual beliefs.
Glacier Resorts says its Jumbo Resort development has been approved after one of the most comprehensive environmental assessments by the province for a project of its kind.
The Jumbo development was first proposed for the Purcell Mountains in 1991 but was challenged in court.
The high court ruling stems from a suit filed by the Ktunaxa in 2012 after Glacier Resorts received B.C. government approval to proceed with construction.
Executive director Josh Paterson of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, which intervened in the case, says Ktunaxa are seeking the same protections for their sacred sites as other peoples of faith have sought for centuries.
"Any reasonable person would recognize that a proposal to destroy the holiest sites of other faiths, like the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem or the Temple Mount, would have a deep impact on the people of those faiths," Paterson says in a news release. "Our governments should give the same respect to the faiths that are indigenous to this land and their holiest sites."
Partly in response to legal delays, and following a request from the Regional District of East Kootenay, the provincial government incorporated Jumbo as a mountain resort municipality in 2012, even though the area had no residents, services or infrastructure at the time.