Alberta v. Hutterian Brethren of Wilson Colony

2009 SCC 37

This case began in 2003, when the Alberta government made photographs a universal requirement for provincial driver’s licences. Previously an exemption had been available who objected to having their picture taken on religious grounds. The amendment arose out of a government effort to combat identity theft. The Hutterites were a rural religious minority who, while they lived an independent lifestyle in isolated colonies, did use automobiles. They had previously availed themselves of the exemption, as their religious beliefs prohibited the taking of ‘graven images’. They challenged the validity of the legislation, claiming that being forced to take photos in order to obtain a driver’s licence violated their freedom of religion under s.2(a) of the Charter.

Although McLachlin CJ, writing for the majority, found that the requirement infringed s.2(a), it was saved by s.1 of the Charter. The justification under Oakes was largely based on the importance of the government objective and a finding that considerations at the minimal impairment stage should be limited to alternatives that most closely achieve the government’s objective. As the government sought to create a comprehensive database including photographs of all drivers in Alberta, there was no more minimally impairing alternative.

SCC Reasons for Judgment


Date Document
2008 / 04 / 08 Appellant – Her Majesty the Queen in Right of the Province of Alberta
2008 / 07 / 02 Intervener – Attorney General of Quebec
2008 / 07 / 08 Intervener – Attorney General of Ontario
2008 / 09 / 17 Intervener – Canadian Civil Liberties Association
2008 / 09 / 22 Intervener – Evangelical Christian Fellowship and Christian Legal Fellowship
2008 / 09 / 22 Intervener – Ontario Human Rights Commission
Respondents – Hutterian Brethren of Wilson Colony