R. v. Big M Drug Mart


On May 30, 1982, Big M. Drug Mart Ltd was charged with carrying on the sale of goods on a Sunday contrary to the Lord's Day Act.
Big M was acquitted at trial.  The trial judge found that the Lord's Day Act was a criminal statute and that the Lord's Day Act infringed freedom of religion guaranteed in Section 2a) of the Charter.

The Section 2 a) of the Charter reads as follows:

,Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms;

a) Freedom of conscience and religion...

Section 4 of the Lord's Day Act reads as follows:

It is not lawful for any person on the Lord's Day, except as provided herein, or in any provincial Act or law in force on or after the first day of March 1907, to sell or offer for sale or purchase, any goods, chattels, or other personal property, or any real estate, or to carry on or transact any business of his ordinary calling, or in connection with such calling, or foregone to do, or employ any other person to do, on that day, any work, business, or labour.-

Sections 13 and 14 held liable any employer who directed any violation of the Act as well as any corporation that authorized directed or permitted any violation of the Act.

The Attorney General of Alberta appealed to the Alberta Court of Appeal.  The Alberta Court of Appeal unanimously held that the Lord's Day Act constituted valid criminal legislation, but the five (5) judges who heard the appeal did not agree on to the constitutionality of the Lord's Day Act with regard to the Charter.  Three of judges were of the view that the Lord's Day Act did breach the guarantee of freedom of religion found at Section 2 a) of the Charter.  The two dissenting judges, basing themselves upon extensive precedent, among them, the Supreme Court of Canada's ruling in Robertson and Rosetanni to the effect that the Lord's Day Act did not breach freedom of religion as guaranteed by the Charter.  The dissenting judges, relying upon Robertson and Rosetanni, held that the effect of the Lord's Day Act was not religious but secular.  The purpose of the Act was irrelevant to its legal qualification.

1- Does the Lord's Day Act infringe upon the freedom of conscience and religion guaranteed in Section 2a) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom?

2- Is  the Lord's Day Act, more particularly Section 4, justified on basis of Section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.


The Supreme Court of Canada held that in analyzing any statutory enactment in order to ascertain its compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that both the purpose and effect of an enactment were relevant.  The Crowns submission to the effect that only the effect of the statute need be looked to in determining whether the legislation violates a constitutional of guarantee of freedom of religion was not accepted by the Supreme Court.  The Court was of the view that a legislative of enactment's purpose was the initial test of constitutional validity and its effects were to be considered where the law under review was deemed not to have been passed for an unconstitutional purpose.  Should the legislation be deemed to have been adopted for an  unconstitutional purpose there is no need to consider its effect.

The Court when on to hold that since the Lord's Day Act bound all Canadians citizens to a sectarian Christian ideal it constituted a coercion inimical to the spirit of the Charter and the dignity of all non-Christians.  In proclaiming the standards of the Christian faith, the Lord's Day Act created a climate hostile to and gave the appearance of discrimination against, non-Christian Canadians.  It took religious values rooted in Christian morality and used the force of the state in order to translate them into a positive law binding upon believers and non-believers alike.  The theological content of the legislation remained a constant reminder to religious minorities within the country of their cultural difference and constant alienation for the dominant religious culture.  The Court went on to hold such a statute could not be deemed justifiable in a free and democratic society such as Canada.  The Court held the Lord's Day Act unconstitutional.