Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Sunday Mornin Comin Down

"Well I woke up Sunday morning with no way to hold my head that didn't hurt. And the beer I had for breakfast wasn't bad so I had one more for dessert." Those words penned by the great Kris Kristofferson in 1970 might not have resonated so well in a society where Sunday work was the norm. Instead of "stoppin by the sunday school and listenin to the song that they were singin", the "I" of the song may well have been on his way to work.

Today, April 24th , marks the 22nd anniversary of 1985 the Supreme Court of Canada decision in R.v Big M Drug Mart. In that case Big M Drug Mart had been charged under the Lord’s Day Act with carrying on business on Sunday. Or as Justice Dickson so nicely put it: "The respondent Big M was commanded by Her Majesty The Queen to face prosecution for a violation of an Act of Parliament". The Act provided:

"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 1st 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 for gain to do, or employ any other person to do, on that day, any work, business, or labour."

The Court held that the legislation violated the Freedom of Religion section (2(a))of the Charter. Since then Sunday work has been lawful.

The decision relates an interesting history of Sunday Observance legislation. While in the end finding that the purpose of the Act was compulsory religious obervance the Court stated that there were two purposes of the Act, one religious "the other secular, namely providing a uniform day of rest from labour." The intertwining of the two purposes "is to be seen as far back as early Saxon times in such laws as that promulgated by Ine, King of Wessex from 688-725":

"If a theowman (slave) work on Sunday by his Lord’s command, let him be free; and let the lord pay thirty shillings as a fine. But if the theow work without his knowledge, let him suffer in his hide, or in hide-gild (money paid in lieu of corporal punishment). But if a freeman work on that day without his Lord’s command, let him forfeit his freedom, or sixty shillings; and be a priest doubly liable."

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