The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom

Case study A:

Robertson and Rosentanni
Her Majesty The Queen

The facts

Sometime in 1961 Walter Robertson and Fred Rosetanni, both residents of Buffalo, New York, and despairing of the lack of opportunity in that City, decide to head up to the bright lights of Toronto.
While they had no previous experience in business they were both "serious" bowlers. Arriving in Toronto they noticed, to their amazement, that despite the large number of bowling alleys, none of them, contrary to Buffalo, appeared to be open on Sundays, certainly one of the most appropriate days for bowling.  Rounding up some cash with their relatives back home, they opened a bowling alley and decided to have their grand opening on a Sunday.

Much to their surprise, before the first pin had dropped, two of Toronto's finest attended the premises and served them with summons for having operated a bowling alley on Sunday, contrary to the provisions of the Lord's Day Act.  They were found guilty at trial and the Ontario Court of Appeal dismissed their appeal.  Robertson and Rosetanni argued that the Lord's Day Act violated their right to freedom of religion as guaranteed by Section I c) of the Canadian Bill of Rights.

The matter went to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Issue to be decided

Does the Federal Lord's Day Act, which prohibits the operation of a business on Sundays constitute a breach of Robertson and Rosetanni's right as guaranteed under Section I c) of the Canadian Bill of Rights, that of their freedom of religion.


The Court held that since freedom of religion existed in Canada prior to the enactment of the Canadian Bill of Rights and that the purpose of the Canadian Bill of Rights was to protect those freedoms that existed prior to its adoption and that the prescriptions of the Lord's Day Act were part and parcel of the rights of Canadian prior to the adoption of the Canadian Bill of Rights, that there could be no violation of freedom of religion.

The Supreme Court held that the purpose of the Lord's Day Act was irrelevant but that its must be looked to in order to determine whether its application involved the abrogation, abridgment or infringement of religious freedom.  The Court held that it could not find anything of that statute which in any way affected the liberty of religious thought and practice of any citizen in Canada.  The Court held that the fact that non-Christians were compelled to observe Sunday as a day of rest was a mere business consequence and did not constitute an abridgment or an infringement of their religious freedom.

The effect of the Lord's Day Act was purely secular in so far non-Christians were concerned.  The defendants were found guilty.

Robertson and Rosetanni went back to Buffalo.