The leader of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster of B.C. (CFSMBC) says ICBC is allowing him to have his driver’s licence picture taken with a pirate hat on but then issues photo-less temporary licences.
“Every two months, I attend a driver's licensing branch to get my photo retaken. I refuse to remove my holy tricorn, so they charge me $17 each time and issue me a two-month temporary paper licence,” says Gary Smith, a.k.a. Dread Pirate Higgs.
Smith argues his pirate hat is part of his church’s religious headwear. He’s been fighting with the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) for ages about being able to wear it for official photographs.
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.
He’s argued CFSMBC is a legally constituted religious organization in good standing under the province's Societies Act.
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.
ICBC, however, told Glacier Media: “We are willing to provide Mr. Smith with the services he requires, such as a photo driver’s licence, provided he presents himself for a photo without a Pastafarian head covering.”
ICBC warned should Smith insist on wearing a Pastafarian head covering, “no driver’s licence and no further temporary licences will be granted.”
“We kindly ask Mr. Smith to attend the nearest ICBC driver licensing office to have a photo captured without a Pastafarian head covering at any time,” the auto insurer said.
Smith, however, believes he is being denied his right to express himself and his religion in accordance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He has asked that ICBC rescind its restrictions on non-traditional religious head coverings.
“Recognize that a profession of faith is enough to warrant the exercise of full constitutional rights,” Smith said in a December 2019 complaint to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.
That wound up before the Supreme Court of B.C. with Justice Gary Weatherill noting, “Canadian courts have previously observed that the practices followed by ‘Pastafarians’ are satirical in purpose.”
ICBC doesn’t see pirate hats and colanders as a constitutional issue, though.
“We recognize that freedom of religious expression is a fundamental right and must be respected,” ICBC’s statement said. “When it comes to religious head coverings and driver’s licences, we strive to ensure our policies and procedures strike a balance between respecting religious faiths and beliefs, and preserving the integrity of our system.”
The corporation said it accommodates customers with head coverings where their faith prohibits them from removing the covering, wherever reasonable and possible, as well as customers with head coverings due to medical treatments.
“If a customer’s head covering is not worn for religious purposes or due to medical treatment, we ask that they remove their head covering for their driver’s licence or BCID photo,” the statement said.
The information fight
The latest round in Smith's fight has been a request under B.C.’s Freedom of Information (FOI) Act to get files on his pirate hat issue.
Smith asked for anything ICBC had to do with Pastafarianism or the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, files to do with his own requests and documents about wearing pasta colanders or tricorn hats.
“My FOI request of ICBC came back with 691 pages,” Smith said. “Most everything was completely redacted... insanely so, in my opinion. They just blacked out huge blocks of everything.”
Smith called the move “disingenuous.”
“Government employees can conceal their interoffice memos and be unaccountable for what they say and what they do. It’s unacceptable.”
He said the point behind the FOI was to find out ICBC’s underlying rationale for banning his hat.
“Now, they’re just concealing it,” he said. “Entire emails were redacted.”
ICBC, though, said it acted in accordance with the FOI legislation.
“In terms of Mr. Smith’s FOI inquiry, ICBC redacts information as permitted or required under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act,” the corporation said in its statement. “We inform requesters which sections were applied to each redaction as part of the package we send out.”
Smith’s got a complaint against the Special Programs Division (SPD) of the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General with the B.C. ombudsman for discrimination.
“The SPD had issued me a security licence wherein I was depicted with my holy tricor, and the registrar, Jess Gunnarson, demanded that I return it under threat of revoking my licence,” he said.
The ministry said it could not speak to Smith’s individual situation but did say that policy specifies security worker licencees must submit a passport quality photograph taken within the last 12 months. The photo must also clearly show a front view of the full face of the applicant. It said passport requirements say head coverings not worn daily for religious beliefs are not accepted.
Community service and wedding plans
Meanwhile, the church remains active in community work, activity that has led it to apply to Canada Revenue Agency to be a registered charity providing religious services and relief of poverty.
As part of its community involvement around B.C., the church adopted a section of highway. That commitment, Smith said, involves adopting a two-kilometre section of Highway 3, six kilometres east of Grand Forks.
The section of road even has a sign denoting the adoption by ‘CFSMBC and Crew.’
Smith added he's looking forward to International Talk Like A Pirate Day on Sept. 19, when he'll be conducting a marriage. (He believes it is the first marriage in the Pastafarian tradition to be performed in Canada.)
The wedding will take place in the Grand Forks couple’s garden after which they will adjourn to a local church for photos.
Smith said church members gather there on the third Friday of each month to hold services. People visiting the Boundary town can find details in the spiritual directory in the local newspaper, The Grand Forks Gazette.
“We’re listed among the other churches,” he said.
Meanwhile, the B.C. man has issued a call to arms for International Talk Like A Pirate Day. He’d like everyone to show up at an ICBC office and ask for their driver’s licence picture to be taken with a colander or pirate hat.
“Let’s see if we can swamp them,” he said.
“R’amen,” he added, the CFSMBC version of ‘amen.’