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During their divorce, Bruker and Marcovitz negotiated a consent to corollary relief in which they agreed to obtain a Jewish divorce, or get, immediately upon the granting of the divorce. Despite Bruker's repeated requests, Marcovitz consistently refused to provide a get for 15 years, required for her to remarry under Jewish law. Bruker sought damages for breach of the agreement. Marcovitz argued that his agreement to give a get was not valid under Quebec law and that he was protected by his right to freedom of religion from having to pay damages for its breach. At trial the judge found that the agreement was valid and binding and that a claim for damages was within the domain of the civil courts. The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal, stating that because the substance of the obligation was religious in nature, it was a moral obligation and was therefore unenforceable by the courts under Quebec's Civil Code.


  1. Are moral obligations enforceable by the courts?


Appeal allowed.


Abella, writing for the majority, held that the fact that a dispute had a religious aspect did not by itself make it non-justiciable. Recognizing the enforceability by civil courts of agreements relating to religious divorce addressed the gender discrimination that religious barriers to remarriage represented and alleviated the effects they may have on extracting unfair concessions in a civil divorce. Nothing in the Civil Code prevented someone from transforming his or her moral obligations into legally valid and binding ones. Marcovitz's claim to religious freedom must be balanced and reconciled with countervailing rights, values, and harm, including the extent to which it was compatible with Canada's fundamental values. Abella found that any impairment to Marcovitz's religious freedom was significantly outweighed by the harm both to the Bruker personally and to the public's interest in protecting fundamental values such as equality rights and autonomous choice in marriage and divorce.


Moral obligations can be transformed into legally binding obligations if formalized.