The B.C. leader of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster continues to battle ICBC in his bid to wear a pirate hat for a driver's licence photo.
Gary Smith of Grand Forks, also known as the church’s captain, argues his pirate hat is part of his church’s religious headwear.
Smith identifies himself as a Pastafarian and a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Members are known to wear either a pasta colander or a three-cornered hat known as a pirate’s tricorn on their heads.
Smith claims ICBC should allow the photo request just as it has already been allowed for his ID as a marriage commissioner and for his firearms acquisition licence.
“I will have you know that as the captain of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster of B.C., a legally constituted religious organization in good standing under the B.C. Society Act, I have successfully argued the right to wear religious headgear in conformance with my beliefs on three other occasions,” Smith said in an April 4 email to ICBC fair practices officer Debby Raffard.
“Ahoy, Debbie,” Smith greeted her in the missive.
Smith had already received a letter from ICBC saying the pirate hat was unacceptable.
“The head covering you wore in Feb. 17, 2022, which is the same brown tricorn hat you have worn on previous occasions for driver’s licence photo applications, was again deemed unacceptable for the purpose of printing on a B.C. driver’s licence, B.C. identification or BC Services Card,” wrote Mario Bourdages, ICBC manager of driver licensing integrity and oversight.
Bourdages wrote Feb. 18 that ICBC “endeavours to accommodate customers whose faith prohibits them from removing a head covering for a photo identification purposes.”
“We do not recognize you as a member of a religious group that requires accommodation in the context of a service customarily available to the public under the British Columbia Human Rights Code,” Bourdage wrote.
However, Smith questions what allows government to decide what set of religious beliefs requires accommodation and what don’t.
“What qualifications grant ICBC the ability to weigh the merits of any faith whatsoever? Hubris!” Smith said.
“The sheer arrogance in only willing to make accommodation if required under the Human Rights Code is shocking in its audacity.
“Ultimately, it remains for us to determine what ICBC is trying to protect in denying me and my crewmates the accommodation we seek,” Smith said.
And it’s not just ICBC Smith finds himself at odds with. He’s also been trying to wear his pirate hat for a security guard licence ID.
“I stridently reassert my right to be depicted in the fashion consistent with my beliefs,” he said in a March letter to licensing authorities.
Smith has already had a skirmish with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.
In a complaint, Smith said members of other faiths — such as Sikhs — are allowed to wear headgear in licence photos.
“There is no test of faith that any government agency, including ICBC, can apply to judge whether or not a person earnestly believes what they profess when they ask to be photographed with a religious head covering,” Smith told the tribunal.
So, what relief did he seek?
“That ICBC allow qualified citizens who self-identify as Pastafarians, or as members of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, to wear religious headgear of a form and type of their choosing, insofar as such headgear does not interfere with (facial recognition technology), for the purposes of obtaining either, or both, a driver’s licence and a BC Services Card.”
However, the tribunal dismissed the complaint, saying Smith was not sincere.
“You are a Pastafarian and member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster which mocks religious beliefs and certain religious practices,” the March 2020 decision said. “Pastafarians wear colanders as ‘religious’ head gear.
“While the protection against discrimination on the ground of religion in the [Human Rights] Code includes protecting the expression of non-belief and the refusal to participate in religious practice, the protection does not require accommodation of a practice satirizing religious practice in providing a service customarily available to the public,” the decision said. “It would not further the purposes of the code to proceed with a complaint in these circumstances.”
Smith took that decision to court for a judicial review where, in 2021, Justice Gordon Weatherill noted Smith conceded some of his arguments were satirical.
Weatherill dismissed the review petition, saying the code had not been violated.