The Ontario Provincial Legislature at Queen's Park, Toronto.

Editorial: Take the next step

  • November 14, 2019

An emphatic defence of religious freedom by Ontario politicians was almost enough to set bells ringing at churches — and mosques, synagogues and temples — across the province. 

 A motion supported by all four parties Nov. 7 not only opposed restricting or limiting religious freedom but also pledged to protect the rights of religious minorities in keeping with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The motion was Ontario’s reply to Quebec’s horrid Bill 21, which bans most public-sector employees from wearing religious clothing or symbols while on the job. Ontario politicians wanted it on the record that any disrespect of religious freedom would never fly in their province and, after speaking forcefully as one, they deserve kudos.

But now they need to show an equal resolve to put their bold defence of religious diversity and expression into action. They could start by throwing a lifeline to beleaguered health-care workers who, for reasons of faith or conscience, face sanctions because they want no part of life-ending procedures like euthanasia and assisted suicide. 

Currently, a doctor in Ontario who rejects legal euthanasia on religious grounds can refuse to kill a patient but is forced by Ontario’s medical college to send that patient to someone who will provide the fatal injection. In Quebec, people of faith are told what symbols they must conceal at work; in Ontario, doctors are told what beliefs they must betray.

It is an untenable situation that, during the 2018 election campaign, Doug Ford’s Conservatives pledged to rectify by legislating conscience-rights protection for doctors. To date, however, that promise is unfulfilled. But given this recent all-party agreement to respect religious diversity and expression, it’s time to make that election promise a priority. 

Speaking Nov. 5 at the 40th annual Cardinal’s Dinner, Cardinal Thomas Collins said he was appalled by Canada’s “death on demand” culture. In such a “grim” environment he said it was essential to respect the conscience rights of those “who do not wish to participate in killing their patients.” His remarks were interrupted by applause from an audience of about 1,600, which included Premier Ford, seated beside the cardinal.

“I hope that our provincial legislature can work to address this issue in the days ahead by enacting legislation that protects the conscience rights of all health-care workers,” the cardinal said, and again the premier joined the widespread applause.

Two days later, in presenting his religious freedom motion in Ontario’s legislature, Liberal MPP Michael Coteau argued that Quebec’s Bill 21 is an affront to Canadian values which respect diversity and multiculturalism. He said politicians must take “a strong stand” and never waiver in their support of religious freedom and expression.

He is right, of course. Religious rights are a pillar of Canada’s democracy. It’s time those rights were extended to doctors, Catholic and otherwise, who want no part of killing a patient.

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