Reciting prayer causes moral injury

The Supreme Court of Canada awarded a man $30,000, $15,000 of which compensated for moral injury as a result of being forced to listen to the reciting of a prayer at a municipal council meeting (Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay (City)2015 SCC 16). The Court reinstated the  Quebec Human Rights Tribunal award of $30,000 in compensatory and punitive damages intended to compensate the claimant.
The mayor’s acts stigmatized him and as a result he had suffered a moral injury. It was also found that the interference with the claimant’s rights was not only unlawful, but intentional. The Tribunal referred to the “religious battle” the mayor had openly conducted on behalf of the council in order to continue to impose his faith on citizens.
The Tribunal found that the claimant sustained prejudice because of “the exclusion he suffered; his unwanted participation in the reciting of the prayer and his therefore being singled out stigmatized him for his non-belief compared with the dominant trend and the majority represented by those attending the municipal council meeting. That interfered in a discriminatory manner with his dignity within the meaning of section 4 of the Charter.”
Compensatory damages for moral injury is a very rare type of civil claim and should not take into account the following factors:

  1. Abusive comments from the public;
  2. Anxiety and stress suffered in relation to the legal proceedings; and
  3.  Dealing with the media coverage of those proceedings.

“Moral injury” is a term used in the context of soldiers suffering psychological scarring from human conflict. Moral injury can be defined as a deep soul wound that pierces a person’s identity, sense of morality and relationship to society (see:Moral injury and moral repair in war veterans).  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Depression are the most understood medical conditions associated with moral injury.
It is questionable whether this novel form of damage will be expanded outside the human rights context by the British Columbia Supreme Court. Liability for negligence requires breach of a duty of care arising from a reasonably foreseeable risk of harm to one person, created by the act or omission of another.  The major elements of a tort action – duty, breach causing injury and cause – reflect “the principle of moral wrongdoing which is the basis of the negligence law”:  L. Klar, “Downsizing Torts”, in N.J. Mullany and A.M. Linden, eds., Torts Tomorrow:  A Tribute to John Fleming (1998), 305, at p. 307.
Just as in claims for psychiatric injury in British Columbia, these claims will likely have to be supported with expert medical opinion evidence.
Posted by Personal Injury Lawyer Mr. Renn A. Holness, B.A. LL.B.

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