Although the Supreme Court of Canada, in July, denied that a couple Hutterite colonies have the right to provincial drivers’ licenses without photos on them, the Hutterites have appealed for a rehearing. Led by the Wilson Colony near Lethbridge, Alberta, the two colonies decided to contest a 2003 ruling by the province that all drivers’ licenses must have personal photos. Previously, Alberta had allowed religious exemptions to the photo requirement for the licenses, as Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario still do.
The Hutterites believe that the second commandment in the Bible, which prohibits graven images, forbids them to allow photos of themselves to be taken. The Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench in Lethbridge agreed with the colonies in 2006, as did the Alberta Court of Appeals in 2007. The province appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled in favor of the Alberta government in July 2009 by a four to three majority.
The two Hutterite colonies argue that the photo requirement violates the national Charter of Rights and Freedoms, while the province maintains, and the Supreme Court agreed, that the absence of photos on licenses could lead to identity theft. Appeals to the court for a rehearing are quite unusual, since it rarely grants such requests and it limits the reasons why it would even consider one.
Sam Wurtz, manager of the Three Hills colony near Calgary, the other participant in the suit, says that the close vote on the court gives them hope that the decision might be reversed. A spokesperson for the provincial government has indicated that his agency will participate in the renewed appeals process. The province will not, however, continue to issue special, temporary, drivers licenses to Hutterites from the colonies who are refusing to have their photos taken.
Greg Senda, a Lethbridge attorney who is handling the case for the colonies, would not predict the outcome of the renewed appeal. He said that a second hearing of a case by the court is “very rarely done.”