AToronto judge has banished a Christmas tree from the lobby of a provincial courthouse, saying the "Christian symbol" might alienate people of other faiths.

Judge Marion Cohen ordered that a small artificial tree on display in the Ontario Court of Justice at 311 Jarvis St. beplaced in aback hallway, out of sight of the entrance.

She wrote in a note to staff thatshe didn't think it was appropriate that when people entered the courthouse, the "first thing they see is a Christian symbol."

The tree's presence suggests to non-Christians that they are "not part of this institution," she said, according to the Toronto Sun.

Pluralistic society

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty called it an "unfortunate"incident.

"I think it reflects a mistaken understanding of what we're trying to do here," said McGuinty.

He said the province is working hard to build a pluralistic multicultural society and that means celebrating all traditions, not asking some to abandon them.

"It doesn't offend anyone when we celebrate Diwali at Queen's Park or celebrate Hanukkah at Queen's Park," he said. "It's part of who we are."

Cohen has refused to publicly speak on the matter.

A spokesman for the Ministry of the Attorney Generalstatedthat as the local administrative judge, Cohen has the right to rule on such issues in the courthouse.

Tree not a religious symbol

Meanwhile, Dr. Robert Buckman, president emeritus of the Humanist Association of Canada,argues that the Christmas treeis not even a religious symbol.

"This is a simple, secular symbol of a festival period," he said. "It's like the pumpkin in Halloween. The pumpkin is actually reminiscent, apparently, of trying to scare ghosts and lighting jack-o'-lanterns and spirits coming into the house and all.

"But no one says you can't put a pumpkin on your porch unless you believe in goblins."