End of the road for Mr. Veffer
Last Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) refused leave to appeal with costs in the Federal Court of Appeal [“FCA”] case of Veffer v Canada (Minister of Foreign Affairs),  1 FCR 641 [“Veffer“]. Veffer dealt with Mr. Veffer’s challenge of Passport Canada’s policy to not list any country alongside the city of Jerusalem on passports for individuals born there.
Passport Canada typically allows applicants to choose whether they want to have either, both or none of their birth country and/or city appear on their passport. For Jerusalem however, it has a special policy requiring that the name of the city stand alone “[d]ue to the present political situation”.
Mr. Veffer was born in the western portion of Jerusalem, and eventually became a Canadian. He applied for a Canadian passport, and wanted his place of birth to state “Jerusalem, Israel”. However, as per Passport Canada’s policy, merely “Jerusalem”, but not “Israel”, appeared on his passport. He sought to have his passport changed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who refused his request. Judicial review of this decision was then pursued, with Mr. Veffer claiming that that his rights to freedom of religion and equality have been violated under ss. 2(a) and 15 of the Charter.
The Federal Court, 2006 FC 540, held that s. 2(a) had not been violated because the Minister’s decision to refuse to add the country designation
in no way restricts his right to sincerely believe that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, to declare this belief openly, and to personally teach and disseminate that belief (paragraph 23). [The trial judge] explained that the passport policy is ‘neither coercion nor a constraint’ (paragraph 24). (as summarized by the FCA decision), at para. 17).
The Federal Courts also found that s. 15 was not violated since, even though birth place was found to be an analogous ground, the nature of the interest is minimal, and neither the policy nor effect of the Minister’s decision impacted the dignity of any particular groups.
After undertaking its own analysis, the Federal Court of Appeal effectively agreed with the applications judge on both sections of the Charter.
Dismissing the application for leave, Mr. Veffer has finally reached the end of the judicial road in this matter. Though this is admittedly a hot political issue, it’s hard to see how the appeal could have turned out any other way. While the SCC did not comment on the issue, to hit the appellant with costs could be a hint that the questions presented were answered in a sufficiently clear way by the lower courts.
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