Oaths, Religious Accommodation, Canadian Law
The global expansion of the British Empire brought to its colonies British legal traditions. Non-British peoples and cultures had to adapt to these imposed legal traditions, but also left their own indelible marks of change. Following years of immigration in Canada, change was necessitated across the social order to accommodate new faiths and cultural practices of non-British origin. One example involved the taking of court oaths, a practice that in the British legal tradition traces its roots to the Protestant Christian faith. Focusing on the example of court oaths, we argue that as immigration surged at the turn of the 20th century, and Canadian society increasingly became religiously diverse, Canadian courts responded to this diversity when shaping the law of oaths. In 1913 a Nova Scotia case, Curry v. The King, was argued before divided courts up to the Supreme Court of Canada on the question of what binds a sworn oath: the religious forms of oath taken or the conscience of the oath taker regardless of their faith. The precedent established remains good law today and is one illustration of how courts successfully wrestled with issues of religious diversity and accommodation in the emerging multi-cultural society of early 20th century Canada.
David Michels & David Blaikie. “Matters of Faith and conscience: A turning point in the taking of oaths in Canada” in L’État et la diversité culturelle et religieuse 1800-1914 (Quebec: Presses de l’Université du Québec, 2009).