B.C. Supreme Court rules that church can’t avoid labour laws by claiming ministers are not employees

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A Vancouver church has been denied its attempt to circumvent Canada’s labour laws by claiming ministers are clergy, not employees. Lawyers for the church had argued clergy have a special relationship with the church because the church is self-governing and operates in accordance with its own rules. The court ruling solidifies protection for ministers employed by churches of all denominations.

Reverend Alfred Kong is suing the Vancouver Chinese Baptist Church for wrongful dismissal and breach of contract after being fired as senior pastor last year. Rev. Kong had been brought to Canada from Hong Kong by the church to commence work in January 2011 after accepting a written offer of employment.

Rev. Kong had been paid a salary with benefits that including pension and employment insurance payments along with paid holidays. Following a one-day court hearing in July, Mr. Justice J. Christopher Grauer ruled the relationship between VCBC and Rev. Kong was one of employment, stating: “There is nothing in my view that should deprive the Rev. Kong of the protection that other employees enjoy in contemporary Canadian society.”

The judge also ruled that VCBC must pay court costs and the plaintiff’s legal costs.

While VCBC showed no remorse for the decision to fire the former senior pastor, lawyers for the church attempted to use other tactics to stop the law suit. VCBC is expected to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of member donations designated to further the ministry of God in a legal battle rather than working out a settlement with the former senior pastor.

It remains to be seen how VCBC, one of the largest Chinese Baptist Church in B.C., will defends this wrongful dismissal and breach of contract law suit. More than 200 members including church leaders and deacons have left the church in protest of the current leadership’s actions.