Ontario is the only province in Canada which recognizes marriages performed by Humanist officiants. In other provinces, marriages must either be solemnized by a religious representative or a government official (either a marriage commissioner, justice of the peace or similar).
In British Columbia and Quebec, the governments have refused to recognize Humanist officiants. In other provinces, the bureaucracy simply may have not been asked to answer the question yet.
The Ottawa Humanist Association was first granted the authority to register officiants to solemnize marriages in Ontario in 1996. The Marriage Act of Ontario is largely similar to BC. Upon receiving an application, the Ontario Registrar General confirmed that Humanist celebrants would be recognized for the purposes of solemnizing marriages in the province. This means that the Government of Ontario effectively recognizes Humanism as a religion.
|Marriage Act of Ontario
|Marriage Act of BC
|(3) No person shall be registered unless it appears to the Minister,
|3 (1) A person must not be registered as a religious representative unless the registrar general is satisfied as follows:
|(a) that the person has been ordained or appointed according to the rites and usages of the religious body to which he or she belongs, or is, by the rules of that religious body, deemed ordained or appointed;
|(a) that the person is a religious representative ordained or appointed according to the rites and usages of the religious body to which he or she belongs, or is by the rules of that religious body deemed an ordained or appointed religious representative because of some earlier ordination or appointment;
|(b) that the person is duly recognized by the religious body to which he or she belongs as entitled to solemnize marriage according to its rites and usages;
|(c) that the person is, as a religious representative, recognized by the religious body to which he or she belongs as authorized to solemnize marriage according to its rites and usages;
|(c) that the religious body to which the person belongs is permanently established both as to the continuity of its existence and as to its rites and ceremonies; and
|(d) that the religious body to which the person belongs is sufficiently well established, both as to continuity of existence and as to recognized rites and usages respecting the solemnization of marriage, to warrant, in the opinion of the registrar general, the registration of its religious representatives as authorized to solemnize marriage.
|(d) that the person is resident in Ontario or has his or her parish or pastoral charge in whole or in part in Ontario; provided that in the case of a person who is in Ontario temporarily and who, if resident in Ontario, might be registered under this section, the Minister may register him or her as authorized to solemnize marriage during a period to be fixed by the Minister.
|(b) that the person
(i) is, as a religious representative, in charge of or officiating in connection with a congregation, branch or local unit in British Columbia of the religious body to which he or she belongs, or
(ii) is a resident in British Columbia who was formerly in charge of or officiating in connection with a congregation, branch or local unit in British Columbia, has been superannuated or placed on the supernumerary list, or is a retired religious representative in good standing of the religious body to which he or she belongs;
Abridged comparison of the Marriage Acts of Ontario and BC. Note that some sections of the BC Acts have been rearranged for direct comparison.
In 1997, the Ottawa Humanist Association transferred this authority to the Humanist Association of Canada (now Humanist Canada) at the advice of the registrar.
The Humanist Society of Friends (now The Humanist Society, a branch of the American Humanist Association) was also reportedly recognized by the Government of Ontario in the 1980s but no longer performs weddings in Canada.
Humanist Canada officiants performed 640 marriages in Ontario in 2014 while having a provincial membership of fewer than 200 people. The organization operates as a registered charity with a volunteer board of directors and only a paid administrative assistant. Officiants are self-governed by a committee of peers. There is a code of conduct and procedure for discipline.
In October 2015, Humanist Canada passed a resolution to use a set of criteria to accredit Humanist officiants outside of Ontario. Anyone with experience in performing weddings, funerals or other ceremonies from a humanist perspective can share a portfolio of their experience with Humanist Canada and have that experience graded against its training criteria. This certification doesn't allow an individual to perform weddings outside of Ontario, however.
The Ontario Humanist Society was also granted the authority to appoint officiants to solemnize marriages in 2009. Since then it has registered over 20 officiants. Similar to Humanist Canada, their officiants are governed by a Code of Ethics and Complaint Resolution Procedure.
There are no marriage commissioners in Quebec and so couples must turn to either religious representatives or justice of the peace-type individuals. Almost uniquely among the provinces, Quebec will grant temporary licenses to individuals to perform one-off weddings.
In 2011, the Association humaniste du Québec (AHQ) applied as a religious body under Quebec’s Marriage Act, based on Humanist Canada’s precedent in Ontario. The application was ultimately denied on the grounds that Humanism is not a religion. The AHQ challenged this decision to the province's human rights commission, the Commission des droites de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse. That commission announced it's decision on March 21, 2016 stating that only religious groups are protected by the province's human rights protections, and as humanism is not a religion, there's no case for discrimination.
Considérant qu'il y a discrimination, au sens de l'article 10 de la Charte, lorsqu'une distinction, exclusion ou préférence fondée sur un motif prévue à cet article a pour effet de compromettre le droit d'une personne d'être traitée en plein égalité dans la reconnaissance et l'exercice de ses droits et libertés;
Considérant que cela suppose d'être en mesure de démontrer que le traitement ou le geste dont une personne se plaint, qu'il s'agisse d'une distinction, exclusion ou préférence, est relié à un motif de l'article 10 de la Charte et qu'il a pour effet de détruire ou de compromettre le droit à l'égalité de la victime;
Considérant que l'humanisme n'est pas, de l'aveu même des plaignants, une religion;
Considérant qu'en l'absence d'une exclusion fondée sur un motif prévu à l'article 10, la situation faisant l'objet de la plainte ne relève pas d'un cas de discrimination au sens de la Charte;
Pour ces motifs, la Commission estime qu'il est inutile de poursuivre la recherche d'éléments de preuve;
The Commission cites in its evidence that the plaintiffs admitted that "atheistic humanism cannot be defined as a religious denomination" as that would require belief in a higher power. This argument ignores other precedent, including MLQ v Saguenay, that creates equality between belief and non-belief in human rights law.
The AHQ decided not to pursue further legal action to challenge this ruling.
Robertson, LH. Humanist weddings in Canada: An examination of secular marriage as a post-feminist phenomenon. Athabasca University. June 2016
Private correspondence: Michel Virard, President, Association humaniste du Québec
Updated: March 24, 2017